The New York Knicks decided to pass on Smith with what ended up being the final draft pick of Jackson’s tenure as New York’s team president, selecting French point guard Frank Ntilikina eighth overall, one pick before Dallas took Smith.
“The Knicks passed on a really good one, and Dallas got the diamond in the rough,” James said after his Cleveland Cavaliers’ 111-104 win Saturday night over the Mavericks. “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.”
Jackson, the legendary former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach whose rocky stint as an executive with the Knicks ended in June, angered James a year ago with comments in an ESPN interview characterizing James’ business associates as a “posse.” James responded by saying that he lost all respect for Jackson.
“No relationship at all,” James said last November, when he made it clear that he believed the term “posse” had racial connotations. “I had nothing but respect for him as a coach for what he was able to do. Obviously he was at the helm of [the team featuring] my favorite player of all time [Michael Jordan], and also being there growing up and watching him with the Lakers, but I got nothing for him.”
Smith, a 19-year-old whom James has mentored since he was in high school, has shown flashes of brilliance early in his career. He is averaging 14.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists for the Mavs, compared to 19-year-old Ntilikina’s 4.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game for the Knicks.
Smith performed particularly well Saturday night while trying to help the Mavs make a comeback against the Cavs. He finished the game with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, five rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks.
“He’s an unbelievable talent [with] athleticism,” said James, who had a spectacular chasedown block in the fourth quarter against Smith, who responded with a breakaway slam dunk the next possession. “He’s very poised to be his age, can shoot the ball, penetrate. He’s only going to get better and better with the opportunity that he’s getting here. Dallas got a good one. I’ve been knowing that. I’ve been with him for so long now. I’ve been knowing his talent level.”
The Cavs’ next game is Monday night against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.