LeBron James wants to make one thing clear: he didn’t intend to take a shot at Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina over the weekend.
No, his aim was much higher.
James said Monday that his criticism of the Knicks for not drafting Dennis Smith Jr. — and instead taking Ntilikina — with the eighth pick of this summer’s NBA draft was solely directed at his former New York nemesis, recently fired team president Phil Jackson.
“It was definitely a shot at (Phil), that’s for sure,” James said before the Cavaliers’ morning shootaround ahead of Monday night’s game at the Garden.
Following Cleveland’s previous game against Dallas, LeBron had stated that Smith — the former N.C. State point guard who was selected one pick later by the Mavericks — “should have been a Knick.” Those words prompted veteran big man Enes Kanter and other Knicks players to jump to Ntilikina’s defense after practice on Sunday.
“I wasn’t throwing shade at Frank at all. For people that got their pants in bunches and things of that nature here in New York, looking for any controversy,” James said on Monday. “I was basically stating what I saw in Dennis Smith and what I saw from him coming out and watching the draft. I thought that he would be a great fit here with (Kristaps) Porzingis.
“And that’s not saying that Frank won’t be a great fit. … It’s not you (crapping) on the next guy. It’s just that you’re stating what you see. It’s all that is, for clarification of it for people who just live in a box and for Enes Kanter, who always got something to say.”
Kanter had charged on Sunday that he was “pissed” at James for the perceived slight at “my rookie,” Ntilikina, and his new organization.
“I don’t care who it is, I just cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that,” Kanter said.
James countered by comparing the situation to how his hometown Cleveland Browns handled having the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft last spring.
“It’s the same if I (say), I mean, that (quarterback) Deshaun Watson should be a Brown,” James said. “That doesn’t means that (defensive end) Myles Garrett is not gonna be a great football player, but Deshaun Watson should have been our quarterback. It’s the same thing.
“When I was watching the draft I thought they was gonna pick (Smith). I talked about it with people that know the game. I know what Dennis Smith is capable of doing, and I knew the Knicks were looking for, have been looking…