Donald Sterling says he was set up, says Magic Johnson bad role model for children of L.A. (VIDEO)

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The first rule on climbing out of a hole is to stop digging.

That’s what Donald Sterling intended to do with his sit down interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, which will air at length Monday night on the news network. Show the world he’s not a bad guy, start climbing out of his self-created hole.

But from the early excerpts released, it looks like Sterling had his shovel in hand and just kept on digging. And with that he gives the NBA more reason to oust him for being bad for business and the league’s image.

He did offer an apology for the racist comments he made on a leaked recording, comments that forced NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to ban Sterling from the team for life, fine him $2.5 million and to start efforts to force a sale of the team (something that requires a 3/4 vote of the other NBA owners).

“I’m not a racist,” Sterling told Cooper. “I made a terrible, terrible mistake. And I’m here with you today to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all the people that I’ve hurt.”

Then Sterling kept on digging. He says he was set up, that the words he spoke in private when he thought he could get away with it were not what he really thinks. Sterling goes with the odd “out of body experience” defense.

“When I listen to that tape, I don’t even know how I can say words like that. … I don’t know why the girl had me say those things,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview set to air on Monday.

“You’re saying you were set up?” Cooper asked.

“Well yes, I was baited,” Sterling said. “I mean, that’s not the way I talk. I don’t talk about people for one thing, ever. I talk about ideas and other things. I don’t talk about people.”

The recorded fight that first aired on TMZ started because Sterling’s mistress V. Stiviano had posted photos on her Instagram account with Magic Johnson. On the recording Sterling questions why she would broadcast that she is seen with black men and he adds that he never wanted her to bring them or Magic to “his games,” referring to the Clippers. (Magic said no problem, I’ll never come to a Clippers game again so long as he is the owner.)

Sterling said he had spoken to Magic since the incident, but then couldn’t resist another dig.

“If I said anything wrong, I’m sorry,” Sterling said. “He’s a good person. I mean, what am I going to say? Has he done everything he can do to help minorities? I don’t think so. But I’ll say it, he’s great. But I don’t think he’s a good example for the children of Los Angeles.”

Magic is far from a perfect human being, but as a native Angelino if my children grow up to have the positive impact Magic did on Los Angeles I’d be incredibly proud. Not the impact he had as a player, the impact as a person, as a business man. For one, Johnson helped change the perception of HIV/AIDS with many people around the nation, showing it was more than a “gay plague” (as if that somehow made the deaths less tragic) and was something much bigger and far reaching.

Magic Johnson the business man made a chunk of his money building first-class shopping centers and bringing amenities such as new movie theaters and grocery stores to predominantly African-American (and other minority) neighborhoods. Johnson helped evolve neighborhoods. Where other developers feared to tread Magic was a pioneer and showed the institutional bias in the system.

Magic and his wife donate extensively to charity, both with their time and money. Not just putting their pictures in the paper touting projects that never come close to getting built (as Sterling did on Skid Row in Los Angeles, among other things). Magic backs up his words.

If Sterling’s issues with Magic are about cheating on his wife back in the day, that would be a sad coincidence.

Sterling says in the CNN interview he thinks he deserves a second chance from the other NBA owners after he made one mistake in 35 years. Suggesting that there has been just one mistake is laughable. He ran a shoddy organization only to make a profit for decades, something that just changed in recent years (and he still makes a healthy profit, which he should, but he’s spending now). His team was an embarrassment to the league for decades. That’s not even getting onto the housing discrimination lawsuits or reevaluations in the Elgin Baylor lawsuit. The league had Sterling sign additional ethics documents for a reason.

The fact of the matter is that the NBA’s moral outrage coincides with its business interests here — sponsors are pulling out from the Clippers and the players were considering a boycott if Silver had not come down hard on Sterling. The league will not back down here (although if they could find a compromise to make this go away and remove the Sterlings, they would consider it). In the middle of what has been a great playoffs for the league, they have had to deal with Sterling giving the Association its biggest black eye since the “malice in the Palace” incident. Because of that the league is not going to back off its efforts to force a sale here. Not with him or his wife.

You can be sure both of them will fight this, although in the interview Sterling suggests he doesn’t gain from a fight (this is where I think his wife is his proxy, that this is more coordinated than it appears at first blush). It is only going to get uglier.

Sterling will see this as fighting, but what he’s really doing is just keeping on digging.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

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.