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.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.

Frustrated Gregg Popovich calls all three referees “f****** blind”

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The Spurs completed an amazing comeback win against the Thunder Friday night, coming from 23 down to knock off the Thunder when Carmelo Anthony‘s game-tying three was just a two because his toe was on the line.

Gregg Popovich was into this one.

So much so that when he didn’t like an out-of-bounds call he made sure all three officials knew exactly how blind he thought they were.

The best part of this is Popovich covering his eyes, just to really emphasize his point.

We’re really going to miss Pop when he steps away to live at a winery full time.

Lonzo Ball walks away from Lakers-Suns skirmish

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If you’re on the court when your team gets in an NBA “fight” — what the rest of us would call a shoving match where nobody really wants to throw a punch — should you run into the fray and help your teammates?

Friday night, with just more than three minutes to go in Phoenix’s eventual win, the Suns called a timeout, and Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one of those silly shoving matches. Players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up.

The Suns’ rookie Josh Jackson picked up a technical for his role racing in and escalating the matter.

Watch the video again, and you’ll see Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball just walk away from it all and head to the bench.

That has led to criticism of the rookie from some Lakers’ fans, who see a guy who didn’t rush in to protect his teammates — that’s seen as part of the sports locker room culture. A “band of brothers” or “us against the world” mentality. Ball, frankly, gave a more mature answer than that.

Ball is right, nothing was going to come of this. It was meaningless posturing. Walking away was the mature move.

However, the question is how is this perceived in the Lakers’ locker room? Do the players care that Ball shrugged and walked away? Do they think he needed to race in and try to look tough like everyone else? That can impact his standing on the team — as a guy Magic Johnson brought in to be a leader — more than anything.

Also, with all his shooting woes, is this the first sign of some Lakers fans starting to turn on Lonzo? It’s a little early for that.