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.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant betting odds favorites to win MVP

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Unlike the early projections for the NBA title next season, the MVP race seems wide open.

Russell Westbrook put up ridiculous numbers on his way to the award last season, but now he is going to share the rock with Paul George. James Harden made a legitimate case and would have won most seasons, but now he will have the ball in his hands less with Chris Paul running the show.

Who is going to win? Westbrook and Golden State’s Kevin Durant are the early betting line favorites, with these odds courtesy of online gaming site Bovada.

Russell Westbrook (OKC) 7/2
Kevin Durant (GS) 9/2
Kawhi Leonard (SAN) 13/2
LeBron James (CLE) 15/2
James Harden (HOU) 8/1
Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) 17/2
Steph Curry (GS) 11/1
Anthony Davis (NOP) 16/1
Paul George (OKC) 25/1
Chris Paul (HOU) 25/1
Isaiah Thomas (BOS) 25/1
DeMarcus Cousins (NOP) 33/1
Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) 33/1
John Wall (WAS) 33/1
Blake Griffin (LAC) 40/1
Nikola Jokic (DEN) 40/1
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 50/1
Joel Embiid (PHI) 50/1
Kyrie Irving (CLE) 50/1
Damian Lillard (POR) 50/1
Draymond Green (GS) 60/1
Ben Simmons (PHI) 66/1
Gordon Hayward (BOS) 70/1
Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 75/1
Jimmy Butler (MIN) 75/1
Andrew Wiggins (MIN) 75/1
Kevin Love (CLE) 100/1
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 100/1
Kristaps Porzingis (NYK) 100/1

Yes, it is far too early to discuss this. As a voter, I don’t even start to make a list of serious candidates until midway through the season (then that list evolves as the season wears on). But it’s fun to speculate about.

To me, the smartest bet on the board seems to be Kawhi Leonard — he could have won last year, and if anything the Spurs are going to ask more of him this season. I think Harden has a chance to win it this season even with CP3, same with Westbrook, but it feels less likely. It’s hard to imagine one Warrior being picked above the others for the award. If Giannis Antetokounmpo finds his jumper it could happen, but that feels more like something a couple seasons away. Same with Karl-Anthony Towns being in consideration.

If you’re going to bet on Kevin Love, just donate that money to charity where it will do some good.

If Jeff Hornacek doesn’t work out with Knicks, is David Blatt next in line?

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It’s not fair to judge Jeff Hornacek of his first season as coach of the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson made some poor roster decisions — don’t hire a coach that likes to play fast then go sign Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — and then there was the on again, off again, on again triangle offense looming over everything.

This season Hornacek will sink or swim on his own terms, and his ability to develop Kristaps Porzingis into a true franchise cornerstone and put Tim Hardaway Jr. and other young players in good positions around them.

If not, is former Cavaliers coach David Blatt lurking? Frank Isola of the New York Daily News says it’s something to watch.

Blatt, who has enjoyed tremendous success abroad, owns an impressive resume. No question about it. But you know the old saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And Blatt has connections with people in high places inside the Knicks front office, namely team president Steve Mills and newly hired front office executive Craig Robinson…

Mills is going to give Hornacek every opportunity to succeed in New York but Mills, who is said to have strong opinions about how the team should be coached, also wants to see results. That begins with Hornacek repairing his relationship with Kristaps Porzingis, who did not connect with the head coach last season and ultimately skipped his exit meeting with Jackson, Hornacek and Mills in April.

Repairing that relationship with Porzingis is crucial. We’ll see if Hornacek can do that and get this team moving in the right direction.

Blatt wants to return to the NBA, but his he the guy to connect with Porzingis? Blatt’s problems in Cleveland had far less to do with Xs and Os than it did relationships with players — Blatt was saying he wanted to team to play faster long before Tyronn Lue said that when he took over, but Lue could get players to buy in and listen. Blatt couldn’t. Blatt came in expecting to be handed respect, touting his European resume (that NBA players shrugged at), and demanding deference rather than building partnerships with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Blatt came off as needing to be the smartest guy in the room, always. Basically, Blatt could not handle the player/power dynamic in the NBA (coming out of Europe, where coaches have absolute power, like an American college coach). Has he learned how to deal with it?

Before we get to that question, Hornaced gets his shot. The real test for the Knicks comes after Christmas, when they spend most of a couple of weeks on the road (due to the Grammys coming to Madison Square Garden), it’s a tough couple of weeks, and the team could struggle in that stretch and not recover. Hornacek has to have the team playing well enough, and buying in enough by then, to survive that trip. Do that and he will stick around. If not, the sharks are circling.

Hawks commit more earnestly to rebuild, but enough?

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hawks were pretty good without a clear path forward.

Now, they’re pretty bad without a clear path forward.

Luckily for them – and despite their best efforts – they might be bad enough.

Atlanta continued its descent from its 60-win peak two years ago by losing its two best players. The Hawks let Paul Millsap leave for the Nuggets and traded Dwight Howard to the Hornets in what could be described as a salary rearrangement more than a salary dump.

After multiple half-measures toward rebuilding – refusing to offer Al Horford the max, trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver for first-round picks – Atlanta finally committed.

Kind of.

The Hawks hedged against full-on tanking by signing Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova. Those two big men – Dedmon in his prime, Ilyasova close enough to it – supply enough hustle and basketball intelligence to sabotage a proper tank. Coach Mike Budenholzer, whose teams tend to exceed the sum of their parts, won’t help Atlanta bottom out.

I can see breaking up a team with a playoff chance to torpedo high into the lottery. The Hawks aren’t doing that – not purposefully, at least. It appears they’re trying to remain credibly competitive, which could only undermine their rebuild.

Atlanta is rebuilding around Dennis Schroder, John Collins, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry. The Hawks also have all their own first-rounders plus protected first-rounders from the Rockets, Timberwolves, and Cavaliers. But the Houston pick is the only one of those extras that can ever land in the top 10, and that’s just top-three protected this season, a season in which the Rockets project to pick in the low 20s.

Simply, this is not an encouraging asset pool to begin a rebuild with. Atlanta would benefit greatly from a high 2018 pick.

The Hawks just don’t seem interested enough in securing one.

They also lost Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha in free agency. Like the 32-year-old Millsap, the 33-year-old Sefolosha had no place on a team mostly rebuilding. The 25-year-old Hardaway could have fit into the next era or even as a trade chip, but not on the four-year, $71 million offer sheet the Knicks signed him to. Though Atlanta wisely passed on matching, it’s a shame to lose an asset for nothing.

That’s really the story of the Hawks’ descent. Millsap, Horford, Sefolosha and DeMarre Carroll all walked in free agency. Atlanta was always reluctant to trade those players for value while it could.

I’m trying to grade only this offseason, not prior decisions. General manager Travis Schlenk took over this offseason, and he has the runway for a patient rebuild.

The Hawks wisely got a first-rounder for taking and buying out Jamal Crawford. Could they have found similar deals rather than signing Dedmon and Ilyasova? Could they have signed younger players instead?

The Hawks might hope they can trade Dedmon (two years, $12.3 million) and Ilyasova (one-year, $6 million) for even greater value, but that comes with complications. Dedmon has a $6.3 million player option for next season, so if his deal goes south, Atlanta is on the hook for another year. (If it goes well, Dedmon will become an unrestricted free agent and – fitting the theme – could just leave.) As a returning player on a one-year contract, Ilyasova can veto any trade.

If the Hawks had re-signed Millsap (and maybe Sefolosha, too), they could have made a decent case to return to the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Atlanta has the NBA’s second-longest active playoff streak, 10 seasons. That isn’t nothing, and continuing it would have been fine.

If the Hawks tried to return to the playoffs and failed, they would have ended up in a similar position to where they are now – somewhere in the lottery, but not necessarily high in it. They could have even traded Millsap – whose Denver deal guarantees him just $61 million over two years – for value.

If the future is murky either way, I’d rather be better in the interim.

Perhaps, Atlanta just tired of losing in the first or second round (though ownership and management has recently changed). That would have been the team’s likely ceiling if it re-signed Millsap.

But I just don’t see winning about 30 games as more pleasurable than reaching the playoffs, even with an early-round exit. A 30-win season doesn’t bring enough value in the draft to offset the difference.

Here’s the good news: The Hawks’ hedging probably didn’t go far enough. They might be downright terrible, anyway – positioning them to draft the elite young talent they badly need to galvanize their rebuild.

This was a D+ effort that stumbled into a slightly more favorable position – i.e., a team that struggles more than it expects.

Offseason grade: C-

Dunker Max Pearce throws down another impressive one (VIDEO)

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These are the kinds of dunks that make me ask, should the NBA allow pro dunkers in the All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest. Some years you get the great Zach LaVine shows, but other years it’s down. NBA players need to focus on their game, not highlight dunks.

Guys like Max Pearce on the other hand…

Here is his latest.

But head to his Instagram page and you get to see a lot of dunks like this.

Stay creative 👍🏽 #Flynance 🏆

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