LeBron James likes Mavs rookie Dennis Smith, and continues to hold a grudge against Phil Jackson.
Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr., “should be a Knick,” according to LeBron James.
James made that pronouncement after the Cavaliers’ hard-fought win over Smith and the Mavericks in Dallas on Saturday, saying, “The Knicks passed on a really good one, and Dallas got the diamond in the rough. He should be a Knick. That’s going to make some headlines, but he should be a Knick. Dallas is definitely, I know they’re excited that he didn’t go there.”
The Knicks — badly in need of a point guard — opted for Frank Ntilikina with the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. Smith went to Dallas with the ninth overall selection.
Why would LeBron use his post-game comments to critique the Knicks’ draft strategy? Several reasons. On one hand, James is close with Smith, and has been a mentor to the rookie going back several years.
On the other, he simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a shot at Phil Jackson.
James’ dislike of Jackson is well-known and well-documented, stemming from an interview in which the then-Knicks team president referred to James’ business partners as his “posse.” James and his associate Maverick Carter took great offense at Jackson’s choice of words.
The selection of Ntilikina was one of Jackson’s last official acts as the Knicks president; the Zen Master was fired days later.
On the off chance that anyone missed the implication, James made things abundantly clear on Monday morning, telling reporters exactly where he was aiming with his comments.
The Knicks were quick to defend their teammate. Kristaps Porzingis told reporters, “I would not change Frank for anybody. Simple.” Enes Kanter responded to James directly, via Twitter:
The selection of Ntilikina did generate some criticism initially; many observers assumed Jackson favored the bigger, more defensive-minded guard over Smith or Kentucky’s Malik Monk because he’d be a better fit in Jackson’s favored and much-maligned triangle offense — a system the Knicks would largely abandon after Jackson’s departure. The complaints grew louder during the summer league; Ntilikina did not play due to an injury; Smith lit up Las Vegas with a string of eye-popping dunks.
Ntilikina has quieted some of the critics with his play. He was largely inactive for the first three games of the season, playing just eight minutes total, all in New York’s season-opening loss to the Thunder. But since he was moved into the rotation against Brooklyn on October 27, the rookie has given Jeff Hornacek’s club surprisingly strong defense off the bench, averaging an eye-popping 3.0 steals per 36 minutes.
The Knicks are an equally-surprising 7-2 in that same span.