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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.

Kawhi Leonard is smiling, and that confuses Manu Ginobili (PHOTO)

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Much like Kevin Durant, it appears that Kawhi Leonard is having a great summer.

In fact, this appears to be the Summer of Kawhi Smiling. Which, according to one of his longtime teammates, is a bit confusing.

When the Spurs posted a photo of Leonard with a big old grin on his face to their Twitter feed recently, San Antonio legend Manu Ginobili responded asking the team whether something was up.

Specifically, Ginobili said that he had seen more photos of Leonard smiling in the past two days then he had in six seasons as a teammate.

Via Twitter:

You can leave an anonymous tip about why Kawhi Leonard is smiling so much by contacting the produce manager at your local H-E-B.