NEW YORK — LeBron James says his belief that the Knicks should have drafted Dennis Smith Jr. wasn't meant to slight Frank Ntilikina, though it was intended as a swipe at Phil Jackson.
“Oh yeah, it was definitely a shot at him,” James said Monday. “That's for sure.”
James said Saturday after playing in Dallas that Smith should be a Knick. New York took Ntilikina with the No. 8 pick in the June draft, one spot before the Mavericks selected Smith.
James said he's known Smith since the former North Carolina State point guard was 13 or 14 years old and that they had trained together. He knows only a little about Ntilikina, a teenager from France who had played overseas with one of James’ friends from Ohio.
Last offseason, Jackson had said the Knicks needed a point guard, either through the draft or free agency, and James figured they could do no better than taking Smith to play with Kristaps Porzingis. He compared his comments to his thoughts that the Cleveland Browns should have drafted quarterback Deshaun Watson with the No. 1 pick, saying that doesn't mean Myles Garrett won't become a top defensive player.
“Like I said, it's no shade at Frank. I don't even know the kid,” James said at the Cavaliers’ shootaround before their game against the Knicks. “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 Porzingis.”
Jackson selected Ntilikina, but that was about the last thing he did as team president, as he and the organization parted ways at the end of June. He had angered James during his three years running the Knicks when he referred to James’ friends and business partners as a “posse.”
“I'm not a Phil Jackson fan, I think you guys already know that,” James said. “That's the past. He's not even here anymore.”