In advance of Monday night’s game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New York Knicks, LeBron James sparked up a little drama.
After Saturday’s win over the Dallas Mavericks, he told reporters that Dennis Smith Jr. “should be a Knick”. Led by Phil Jackson at the time, New York drafted Frank Ntilikina with the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, which allowed the Dallas Mavericks to select Smith with the next pick.
So far this season, Smith has shown glimpses of future star potential while Ntilikina has spent most of his time coming off the bench due to his raw skill set. But, it seemed like clear disrespect towards Ntilikina.
LeBron tried to downplay his words, saying the following at shootaround on Monday:
“I wasn't throwing shade at Frank at all,” he told reporters. “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.”
But, it seems as though it was too late. Outspoken Knicks center Enes Kanter had a lot to say before the game tipped off.
"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.”
Late in the first quarter of Monday's game, LeBron stood in the way as Ntilikina attempted to retrieve a made basket. The rookie pushed James a few times before Kanter stepped in:
Double-technicals were issued to Kanter and LeBron as a result. It was obvious that the off-court drama translated to an on-court issue.
The incident did seem to pump James up, however. After getting off to a very slow start, he finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists and most importantly, the Cavaliers improved to 7-7 on the year by outscoring the Knicks 43-25 in the fourth quarter to capture the comeback win.
Kanter also made headlines for what he said after the game:
LeBron responded to that jab with the following:
It will be interesting to see if the drama continues when the teams square off in a home-and-home series to end the regular season on April 9 and April 11.