LeBron James has been a kind of mentor to Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr., and this weekend the Cleveland Cavaliers forward made comments that turned heads about the New York Knicks passing on the NC State product in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Speaking to reporters, James praised Smith Jr.’s athletic ability and said that, “The Knicks passed on a really good one. Dallas got the diamond in the rough.”
Of course, that comment was seen as a dig at the Knicks and perhaps former team president Phil Jackson. Smith Jr. went at No. 9, and the Knicks took fellow PG prospect Frank Ntilikina at No. 8.
Now that the dust has settled on LeBron’s comment, folks in New York are expanding that interpretation to include disrespect to Ntilikina as well. On Sunday, several New York teammates including Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter came to the defense of the French point guard.
“I mean, I don’t know why he made those comments, but all I can say is we love Frank, we’re happy with him,” Kristaps Porzingis told reporters after the Knicks’ practice on Sunday. “He’s doing a great job. He’s playing great, and he’s doing what he’s supposed to. And I would not change Frank for anybody. Simple.”
“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 on Sunday. “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.”
For his part, Ntilikina wasn’t worried about what LeBron said about him. “I think in life people can think whatever they want,” said Ntilikina. “However, it’s not gonna affect us and me.”
It’s always funny to see how NBA players turn things like this on their head to use it for motivation. Obviously there is some ranking going on from LeBron here, but saying the guy one below you in the draft should have gone in your spot isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened between players. Remember, this is a league where Matt Barnes once got in a fight with Derek Fisher for dating his ex-wife.
NBA players could take a misspelled name on a Starbucks cup and use it to fuel their competitive fire, so in the meantime I suppose we just get to sit here and watch.