PORTLAND, Ore. — As much as the Knicks would like it to end, the controversy over Enes Kanter’s decision to not accompany the team to London for its game against the Wizards next week will not go away.
Kanter has been embroiled in a dispute with the government of his native Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for some time. Last week, the center said he will not travel to London for the Jan. 17 game because “they’ve got a lot of spies there. I think I can get killed there easy. It would be a very ugly situation.”
On Monday, Hedo Turkoglu, who spent 15 seasons in the NBA and is an adviser to Erdogan, said Kanter’s comments are part of a “political smear campaign.”
In a Twitter post, Turkoglu wrote: “We know that he has not been able to travel to many countries due to visa issues since 2017. In other words, Kanter cannot enter the UK not because of fears for life as he claims but due to passport and visa issues. This being the long-known truth, he is trying to get the limelight with irrational justifications and political remarks. Such remarks constitute another example of the political smear campaign Kanter has been conducting against Turkey as well as his efforts to attribute importance to himself by covering up the contradictions in his sports career. Kanter not only targeted the Republic of Turkey, governed by the rule of law, with unjust accusations but he also regarded the British security forces as weak and attempted to harm Turkish-British relations. It is obvious that this person’s remarks are irrational and distort the truth.”
Later Monday, Kanter called Turkoglu a “lap dog” for Erdogan and posted a photo on Twitter of what he said was his U.S. passport in an effort to explain why he is not going to London.
“This is my travel document,” Kanter wrote. “It’s NOT a visa issue!!! I CAN go to London. Either you are delusional, or still Erdogan’s lap dog. Keep wagging your tail @hidoturkoglu15.”
Kanter, whose Turkish passport was revoked by the country in 2017, is an outspoken critic of the Erdogan regime. He referred to Erdogan as #DictatorErdogan in his Twitter post.
Knicks owner James Dolan said on Monday that he thinks Kanter’s fears about going to London are “legitimate.”
“My folks tell me — I think the people over there are assuring us, ‘There won’t be a problem, there won’t be a problem,’ ” Dolan said in Las Vegas, where the Rangers will face the Golden Knights on Tuesday. “But if I was him, I’d be concerned, too. And I don’t blame him at all.”
Dolan added that he is “totally OK” with Kanter missing the trip.
This probably is not the pre-trip publicity the NBA had in mind when it selected the Knicks and Wizards to play at the O2 Arena. Neither team is having a good year, Wizards star John Wall is out for the season after heel surgery, and much of the discussion during the trip may be about a player who is back home in New York.
This also is not the season Kanter expected to be having. He has been twice replaced as the Knicks’ starting center, first by rookie Mitchell Robinson and then by Luke Kornet.
Kanter has expressed frustration with his role on the Knicks, who brought a 10-29 record into Monday night’s game against the Trail Blazers, calling it “very embarrassing” to be a backup on a rebuilding team.
The Knicks reportedly have received trade offers for Kanter, but the 26-year-old has an expiring contract worth $18.6 million. That is attractive to the Knicks to aid their pursuit of free agents in the offseason.
Entering Monday, Kanter was averaging 14.4 points and 10.7 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per game.
With Colin Stephenson
in Las Vegas