D’Antoni says he really doesn’t understand Howard’s decision

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What was he going to say?

Mike D’Antoni spent his portion of the Lakers’ Dwight Howard free agency meeting in early July trying to show Howard how the center really did fit in the D’Antoni offense — how Howard is vastly better on the pick-and-roll than he is just getting the ball in the post. (He is.) That system is not all that different from what Houston ran last season, but Kevin McHale convinced Howard he would be happy in the Houston offense.

So in part because he didn’t feel he fit in with the L.A. offense (and in part because Howard wanted Phil Jackson over D’Antoni, and in part for a lot of other reasons) Howard moved on.

D’Antoni went on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles and talked about Howard’s decision (as transcribed by Dave McMenamin at ESPNLA.com). Basically, he shrugged.

“It’s hard for me to sit here and criticize or even to understand why he left a place like L.A.,” D’Antoni told “ESPN L.A. Now” hosts Mark Willard and Mychal Thompson on ESPN LA 710 radio Tuesday. “That’s kind of mind-boggling a little bit, but that’s in his DNA and what he wants to do….

“Everybody has got to make that decision,” D’Antoni said. “You can debate it all you want. Only Dwight knows. Obviously he didn’t think he would be as happy here as he will be in Houston. That might be the case and he had to make that decision. There will be a lot of speculation, we tried it, it didn’t work out and we go forward. So be it.”

The radio hosts also asked about Kurt Rambis being hired as D’Antoni’s assistant coach. It’s not that the pairing can’t work (although Rambis was surprised he was asked) it’s that Rambis’ ties to Phil Jackson bring a specter back into the building that D’Antoni has been trying to shake off.

“Phil casts a big shadow and he should,” D’Antoni said. “He had unbelievable success, he’s a great coach, but it is what it is. I’m just trying to hire the best guys qualified and Kurt is that. So, you don’t want to start, ‘OK, this guy is not quite as good, but let’s get him,’ because you’re afraid of something that happened in the past. We got to go forward and we got to try to make this team as good as we can.”

This season is going to see a lot of experimenting from D’Antoni and the Lakers as they try to get and keep key players healthy — Steve Nash and Pau Gasol say they are close, Kobe Bryant is shooting for Game 1 but is a crap shoot — then seen what combinations and sets work with the roster as it is now. The Lakers are not going to be a bad team, but the West is deep and just being okay is not going to even get you into the payoffs.

Russell Westbrook on Rockets laughing at Andre Roberson missing free throws: ‘Probably the guys that don’t play’

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The Rockets bench made a big production when an intentionally fouled Andre Roberson kept missing free throws in the Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Rockets yesterday.

Russell Westbrook stuck up for his teammate.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Westbrook:

I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it at all. Probably the guys that don’t play, probably over there the ones laughing, if I had to guess.

Good guess. It appears Montrezl Harrell and Bobby Brown – whose only playing time this series came late in Houston’s blowout Game 1 win – led the jeers.

But the most important thing for the Thunder is Roberson making his free throws. They need him on the court to defend James Harden, which exposes him to hacking. If Westbrook deflecting attention onto the Rockets’ benchwarmers helps Roberson at the line, great. But if not, the Rockets will keep having reasons to laugh.

Magic Johnson winks at bringing Paul George to Lakers

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Paul George-to-the-Lakers rumors have swirled for a while.

New Lakers president Magic Johnson will only fuel them.

Asked how he’d interact with the Pacers star to avoid tampering if they ran into each other, Johnson said on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

In explaining how he’d avoid tampering, Johnson probably tampered. Accidental tampering appears to be his specialty.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement says team employees can’t permissibly “induce, persuade, or attempt to entice, induce or persuade, any Player who is under contract to, or whose exclusive negotiating rights are held by, any other Member of the Association to enter into negotiations for or relating to his services or negotiate or contract for such services.” But the league arbitrarily enforces tampering, so who knows whether he’ll be punished?

Johnson almost certainly could have gotten away with the hypothetical conversation he laid out. But going on television and describing it — even as fantasy, even not directly to George — could constitute tampering in itself,

If Johnson helps attract George to Los Angeles, it’d well be worth it. At least he’s trying something.

Report: Austin Rivers returning for Clippers-Jazz Game 5

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There have been bigger injuries in the Clippers-Jazz first-round series: Blake Griffin‘s toe, Rudy Gobert‘s knee and Gordon Hayward‘s stomach.

But Clippers guard Austin Rivers has yet to play due to a strained hamstring.

It sounds as if that will change tomorrow.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This is neither as big a deal as the Clippers will make it out to be nor as meaningless as Rivers’ many detractors will claim.

The 6-foot-4 Rivers will provide an important defensive upgrade on the perimeter. The Clippers haven’t successfully hidden Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton, allowing Utah too many quality looks. Here how the Jazz have shot when defended by each, per NBA.com:

  • Crawford: 18-of-36 (50%), including 7-of-17 on 3-pointers (41%)
  • Felton: 13-of-24 (54%), including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers (63%)

Rivers needn’t be great to help behind Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.