NEW YORK — LeBron James admitted he was taking aim at former New York Knicks president Phil Jackson and not the Knicks organization when he said this past weekend that Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. “should be a Knick.”
James made waves Saturday when he said the Knicks “passed on a really good one” in this year’s draft by selecting Frank Ntilikina with the eighth pick ahead of Smith, who went No. 9 overall to Dallas.
The Cleveland Cavaliers star clarified those remarks Monday, saying he was not “throwing shade at Frank at all, for people that got their pants in bunches.”
James confirmed that his comments were directed toward Jackson, who parted ways with the Knicks this past June less than a week after presiding over New York’s selection of the French guard Ntilikina.
“Oh yeah, it’s definitely a shot at him,” James said. “That’s for sure.”
James publicly called out Jackson last year after the Hall of Fame coach referred to the four-time league MVP’s business associates as a “posse” in an interview with ESPN.
“I had nothing but respect for him as a coach for what he was able to do,” James said at the time. “Obviously he was at the helm of [the team featuring] my favorite player of all time [Michael Jordan], and also being there growing up and watching him with the Lakers, but I got nothing for him.”
James acknowledged Monday that he is “not a fan” of Jackson but said he has “no problem with the Knicks.”
“Phil was just a small piece [of the Knicks’ recent struggles],” James said. “Well, he was a big piece of it, actually. I don’t have no problem with the Knicks organization. I wasn’t here so I don’t know the insights and everything. … Y’all know how they handled the Carmelo [Anthony] situation, but I’m not a fan of Phil Jackson, though. I think you guys already know that. Let’s not — that’s the past though. He’s not even here anymore.”
Knicks big man Enes Kanter came to Ntilikina’s defense on Twitter on Saturday night and elaborated on his stance at practice Sunday.
“I don’t care who, I just cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that, because when I play for an organization, I see my teammates and that organization as like a family,” Kanter told reporters. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s LeBron or whoever it is, I cannot just let him disrespect him like that. The coaches, the GMs, the president, this organization knows what they’re doing. … I mean, come on. That’s a rookie. You cannot just say anything like that about him.
“I don’t care, it doesn’t matter LeBron or whoever it is. I don’t care who. I cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that.”
James laughed off Kanter’s rebuttal.
“For Enes Kanter who always got something to say,” James said. “He says … I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”
Smith’s numbers — averaging 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists — would seem to overwhelm Ntilikina’s averages of 4.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists, but considering the Knicks’ 7-5 record versus the Mavs’ 2-12 mark and Ntilikina’s superior 104.5 defensive rating (compared to Smith’s 113.8), their overall rookie campaigns are somewhat comparable so far.
“I know what Dennis Smith is capable of doing,” said James, who has worked out with the Mavs guard in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and also has played against him at his annual summer skills academy. “And I knew the Knicks had been looking for a point guard. Am I stating things that’s false? No. This is facts, right? I thought they would pick him, but, like I said there was no shade at Frank. I don’t even know the kid. I wasn’t even thinking about the kid when I was talking about Dennis Smith. I was thinking about the Knicks organization, and Phil Jackson at the time, and Dennis Smith’s talent, and [Kristaps] Porzingis. That’s all I was thinking about.”
James kept his general manager hat on to take a shot at the hapless Cleveland Browns, who are in the midst of a miserable 0-9 season and whose quarterback rotation of DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler has combined for eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions on the year.
“It’s the same if I, I mean, I think DeShaun Watson should be a Brown,” James said of the Houston Texans QB selected at No. 12 with a pick acquired from Cleveland in a trade. He posted 19 touchdowns and 8 picks before suffering a season-ending knee injury. “Doesn’t mean that Myles Garrett isn’t going to be a great football player. But Deshaun Watson should’ve been our quarterback. Doesn’t mean you’re s—-ing on the next guy. It’s just that you stating what you see. That’s all that is, for clarification of people who just live in the box.”
James, who has always been generally well received by Knicks fans and has two 50-point games at Madison Square Garden on his résumé already, was asked if that vibe could change Monday following his recent comments.
“Man, I don’t care,” James said. “What’s going to be worse here than I’ve felt before in my career? I’m just stating facts, that’s all. Have y’all seen him play? Man, get out of here. Y’all be tripping here.”