Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James' beef is with Phil Jackson—not Frank Ntilikina. James told reporters Monday his comment that Dennis Smith "should be a Knick" was a jab at the former Knicks president and not indicative of his thoughts on Ntilikina.
"Oh yeah it's definitely a shot at him," James said Monday of Jackson, per Ian Begley of ESPN.com.
James, 32, has been upset with Jackson since the legendary coach categorized his group of friends and advisors as a "posse" last November. The four-time MVP said he was offended by the racial connotations the word "posse" carries.
After Saturday's win over the Mavericks, James said the Knicks should have drafted Smith, who instead dropped to Dallas at No. 9. The Knicks instead selected Ntilikina one pick earlier.
"His athleticism, his playmaking ability, I've been knowing the kid since he was 14 years old," James told reporters of Smith. "I know what he's capable of. I wasn't throwing shade at Frank at all. People really got their pants in a bunch, and things of that nature. In New York, you look for any controversy here. I was just stating what I saw in Dennis Smith and what I saw coming out and watching the draft. I thought he would be a great fit here with Porzingis, and that's not to saying Frank won't be a great fit."
The Knicks fired Jackson following a tenuous three years running the franchise in June. While the former Bulls and Lakers coach showed little acumen for free-agent decisions and alienated his stars with public criticisms, Jackson did show a keen eye for drafting talent. Kristaps Porzingis has developed into a star during his short time in the league, and Ntilikina has flashed talent as a defender early in his rookie campaign.
Knicks players, particularly center Enes Kanter, have rallied around Ntilikina.
"This is my rookie. This is my team. This is my organization. I cannot just let [James] disrespect [Ntilikina] like that," Kanter told reporters. "Frank's doing an unbelievable job. Every day he's working really hard.
"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. That's why I was pissed he said that."
Smith is averaging 14.8 points and 4.9 assists per game this season.