Archives For December 2009

Preview & Chat: The New Jersey Nets

Kurt —  December 19, 2009

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Records: Lakers 20-4 (1st in West) Nets 2-25 (their scouts are looking hard at John Wall)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.1 (13th in league), Nets 96.5 (30th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 99.6 (1st in league) Nets 108.8 (22nd in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Nets: Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas Roberts, Josh Boone, Brook Lopez

The Lakers Coming in: Not much to say, the Lakers play three games in the next four days, and it would be good to get off to a fast start through that stretch. The last two games should be challenging.

By the way, those of you who like money, you should be using the Lakers to predict the stock market.

The Nets Coming in: How bad are things? Nets are Scorching this morning compared the team to the Hindenburg. See more of their thoughts in the previous post.

One thing that is different since the last time these teams met (Thanksgiving weekend): Under Kiki Vandeweghe the Nets have been a better offensive team, scoring 9 more points per 100 possessions. The problem is they are now giving up 9 more points per 100 possessions on defense.

Keys to game:On the television in the locker room before a game teams usually teams run video of that night’s opponent. Tonight, instead Phil Jackson should have the video of the Celtics loss to the 76ers last night up, just as a reminder that any team can beat any other team in this league. You can’t take any night off.

Last meeting between these two was a laugher, the only thing of real note was the Lakers did go small a lot — Bynum sat, Gasol went to center, Artest to the four and Kobe to the three. We may see that again.

When you read Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper — the bible of the advanced stats revolution — one of the first points he makes is obvious: The team that shoots better wins almost every time. (Sure, you don’t need stats to tell you that, but he wanted to reinforce that however you do the math, basketball remains about putting the ball in the hoop.) The Nets have the worst field goal percentage in the league, although if you use True Shooting Percentage (basically points per shot attempt) they do slide past Chicago into 29th. The Lakers force teams to shoot a lower percentage than any team in the NBA, however you slice it. Ergo….

The Nets run a lot of high screen and roll, with Harris handling the ball and Lopez setting the screen. On paper this is a more deadly combination than it has turned out to be this season (I really don’t understand the regression of Harris), but the Lakers still need to defend it well. Bigs need to cut off Harris, he is quick and if he turns the corner he can be a problem. Lopez has a lot of good post moves, and at times they will isolate him down there and he has a lot of low post moves.

The Lakers do catch the Nets on the second game of a back to back, New Jersey was run out of the building by the Raptors last night. Chris Douglas Roberts was the guy trying to motivate his teammates saying everyone needed to pick up their games. We’ll see if they come out fired up for the world champs, but if the Lakers can jump out to an early lead they may be able to take the will out of them.

The Nets will run at times, especially when Rafer Alston is in, and they have guys like Courtney Lee and Chris Douglas Roberts who operate well in space. The Lakers simply need to get back in transition and not turn the ball over.

Where you can watch: This game is on Channel 9 here in Los Angels starting at 5, and also is on ESPN 710 radio.

Talking Nets

Kurt —  December 19, 2009

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To get a little Jersey flavor to put us in the mood for the game tonight, I was either going to put in the YouTube of the Soprano’s title credits, or talk to Mark from Nets are Scorching. Sorry music lovers, I went with the latter.

After the ugly start to the season, the Nets seem to be turning a corner. Even when they’re not winning, they are battling teams like the Cavs in the loss. What has changed? Why is Devin Harris starting to play better now?

Ahh, but not so fast with that turning the corner talk. The Nets looked pretty good in their victories against the Bobcats at home (Charlotte can’t win on the road mind you) and the Bulls on the road (Chicago can’t seem to beat anyone right now), but the team is now embroiled in another losing streak (5 games as of Friday) and the team defense has taken a turn for the worse. [Editor’s Note: The Nets got crushed again last night, this time by the Raptors, 118-95.] They gave up 130 points last weekend to the Hawks and 108 Wednesday night to the Jazz. The Cleveland game seemed to be an aberration, as the Nets were able to hang around for most of the game, and the Cavs seemed to have no answer for the zone (take note Eastern Conference playoff teams). The same thing can be said for Devin Harris – he played well Sunday and Tuesday night, but was a total mess against the Jazz, only scoring 9 points on 1-9 shooting. Harris can’t seem to figure out if he’s a shooter, a playmaker, or a little of both.

But overall, the Nets just can’t shoot right now — period. I’ve lost track of how many 0-8, 1-9 games Rafer Alston has put up. Bobby Simmons, who was a decent three-point shooter last year, can’t get anything working. For all of the people who predicted Courtney Lee’s shooting would suffer because he no longer has guys like Dwight Howard to make defenses collapse and open up the perimeter – Lee is missing a TON of open jumpers this season.

I look at the Nets roster and see Harris and Lopez and CDR and think “that is a quality young core that with a star and some growth could be very good.” And you’ve got Brooklyn plus an owner coming in who makes Mark Cuban look like lower middle class. What is the feeling of the fans on the future? How much hope is pinned on the 2010 class and what is a realistic expectation for the franchise going forward?

Well, the future of the franchise at this point, is heavily tied to the move to Brooklyn, and the Nets have gotten some good news on that front the past month. NY state judges ruled in favor of Nets ownership to use eminent domain to get the land they need to build the new arena – the last big legal hurdle they faced – and then earlier this week, there were a lot of takers for the bonds needed to finance the project. They’re talking a January groundbreaking, which should be right around the time Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s richest man, should be approved as the new owner. There’s a lot of talk that Prokhorov is in this to win, and I tend to buy into that buzz, so that’s a great sign. But if Brooklyn were to collapse, all of these machinations would go up in smoke, and the team would remain cash poor and stuck in a lose-lose situation in Jersey.

And of course real estate means nothing if the Nets can’t get players who can play. I think Brook Lopez is the absolute real deal, but I’m starting to question the idea that Devin Harris is a “star.” Nice player, yes – but with all eyes on him this year, he’s been putting together a very erratic season, and he’s constantly getting injured to boot. Chris Douglas-Roberts is an ideal 6th man, instant-offense guy on a good team – on a bad team where he’s forced into playing 35+ minutes a game I think his game suffers. You didn’t even metntion Yi Jianlian in your question, and I don’t blame you – but even at his best, he looks like a change of pace guy off the bench, not someone you build a team around. So while there’s a reason to be optimistic, I would feel a lot better about 2010 if the Nets were able to use their cap space to get a legit PF (Bosh? Boozer? Stoudamire?) to flank Brook in the frontcourt, and at least one athletic wing (Rudy Gay? Joe Johnson?) to take the pressure off Devin. I’m realistic in that I’m not shooting for the big big fish in LeBron or Wade, but the Nets have to get some quality players on this roster for them to be even mildly competitive in 2010.

Pau Gasol Is Going Nowhere

Kurt —  December 18, 2009

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Pau Gasol has agreed to a three year extension to his deal with the Lakers, keeping him with the team through 2014. Pen should hit ink in the next few days.

The exact terms of the deal will not be known for two years, because it will depend somewhat on the next CBA to begin in 2011. But it likely will be in the low $60 million dollar range for the three years.

That the Lakers would re-sign Gasol is not a shock, but the timing shows how badly they wanted to keep him in the fold. Lakers brass realizes that Gasol and Kobe — who is working an extension, or who may opt out this summer and re-sign with the team — are the keys to titles down the line. They have been together two years, and have been to the Finals twice. You need other good players to do that, but Kobe and Pau are the stars at the heart of the success.

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The rumor is out there that the Lakers are going to extend Pau Gasol’s contract soon (Eric Pincus wrote this at Hoopsworld). On one hand the timing seems odd, so I’m taking this with a whole lot of salt, but eventually the Lakers will do just this in one form or another. Nobody is in favor of letting Gasol walk.

The challenge is the Lakers have a lot of pieces that they want to keep, the core of the championship team. And that means making a trade this season or a move this summer to fill in the point guard position becomes a Rubik’s cube. Zephid explains in a recent email.

If we assume we let Ammo and Farmar walk, bringing back Powell, DJ, and Fisher for the minimum, and Brown picks up his player option, we’ll have somewhere around $87 mil in payroll with a 10 man roster, not counting any draft picks whatsoever. Assuming we add 3 players for the minimum, we’ll have around $90 mil in payroll, about $1.3 mil shy of our total this year. Any quality PG we bring in will probably be in the $2-6 mil range, so that would put us somewhere between $92 mil and 96$ mil. With the luxury tax level dropping to $65 mil, which is an upper estimate (it could drop significantly lower), that would be somewhere around $30 mil in luxury tax payments, taking our total salary expenses to around $125 mil. That’s more than $10 mil more than we’re paying this year, and this is the best-case scenario.

This time of year everyone has trade ideas. Plenty of them. That includes GMs, who are calling each other a lot the last week or so (this is a busy time of years as a lot of guys become available next week). The challenges for the Lakers as I see it are multiple, however, and it will be hard to make anything really work.

Clearly, long term point guard is the primary concern. But you can’t just go get any point guard – you need someone who is willing to be offensive option number 5, can defend and hit shots from the outside. Basically, he Lakers don’t need CP3 or Ricky Rubio, they don’t want a guy who needs to have the ball in his hands. Snoopy2006 sent me an email recently saying he was struggling to find someone worth getting.

I started to look at a list of the PGs in the league. There’s so many complaints about Fisher, but what makes this difficult is that better PGs (better overall) aren’t better necessarily for the system we run. When you take that into account, there’s not a lot of good options out there (high potential guys like Beaubois and Maynor aren’t becoming available). I like George Hill a lot for our system, but if we’re being realistic, SA isn’t giving him up. Some people are high on Duhon too; I’m non-committal on him.

But outside of that, there’s no real upgrades out there (and we’re not getting a high draft pick). Fisher isn’t even in the top half of the PGs in the league, but there’s not much better out there with our current system and personnel (meaning we don’t want a high-volume shooter). So I started thinking along some different lines — are there other ways around our PG defense problem? I thought about how Ariza was perfect for guarding the speedier PGs with his length, and that led me to…. Dorrell Wright (sorry if you had a mouthful of food, try the Heimlich). I’ve watched the Heat closely for years, and I’ve seen this guy from the beginning. He’s been, by most standards, a bust. A project that never truly developed. I’ve been as down on him as any critic. But there are several things about him that intrigue me.

I’m not sure if he really is a fit, but at least Snoopy is thinking outside the box. He later makes the point that the Lakers best chance is to unearth a hidden gem for the position. The Lakers don’t need a traditional PG, guys like Harper and Paxson did well as the triangle PG even if they would have been bad fits a lot of places. For the Lakers, you can think differently about the position. Darius was thinking outside the box as well.

One other guy that I’d really want to play for us — and a guy that I think could actually play PG for us — is Anthony Morrow. Living in the Bay, I’ve gotten a close up view of this guy and he can play. He’s already one of the games best shooters, but he’s got a little bit more to his game than just that….he’s got a decent handle and is better off the dribble than you’d expect. Also, because he gets a lot of minutes at SF, he’s shown toughness on the glass and in fighting for position with guys bigger than him that has impressed me. He’s not a FA until the season after next, but if we could get our hands on him I’d be ecstatic.

Whatever happens, the Lakers are going to need to be creative. Go ahead and give us your trade ideas if you want, but remember to be creative and think realistically: The Lakers are not going to take on a big long-term salary. Bynum’s raise kicked in this year, while Kobe, Odom, Gasol and Artest are here for years. Sasha has a year left on his deal and don’t think teams are eager to have him around next year with a shooting slump and a $5 million salary. Darius adds:

The truth is that we will have a hard time making an impactful trade for a PG because (a) we need to cut payroll, (b) at least half the league won’t make a trade with us that improves us, and (c) we have no real assets to offer.

Pau Gasol: Joga Bonito

Kurt —  December 17, 2009

First, before anyone says it: I know I used the Portuguese in the post title. I also am well aware that Portugal and Spain are different countries (Spain is the one with a chance to win the World Cup). But I thought the phrase applies.

Sometimes, we don’t appreciate what a beautiful game Pau Gasol plays. How he makes the offense flow. How he does what is needed — lately that has been rebounding, so for the last four games he has averaged 19.5 rebounds a night.

The video above is Gasol’s points gainst the Bucks — he had 26 points, 22 rebounds, four assists and four blocks. On a night when the rest of the team looked lethargic, Gasol looked like he had downed a case of Red Bull. He was everywhere.

And if he had not been everywhere, Kobe Bryant would not have had the chance to hit the dramatic game winner.

Watch, and enjoy Joga Bonito

Bynum on the Boards

Kurt —  December 17, 2009

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Andrew Bynum, all seven feet of him with that 7’6” wingspan, had three rebounds in the win over the Bucks. That’s the same number he had in the game against Chicago the night before. He had four against Utah to start this road trip.

Those numbers are, um, to be kind, unimpressive. There are some mitigating factors, starting with Phil Jackson saying Bynum has not felt well recently. Then there was Brad Miller pulling him away from the post in Chicago and the jumpshooting Bucks leaving long rebounds in Milwaukee. But that is not all of the problems.

To see what is really going on, I tracked Bynum’s rebound chances through the Bucks game, and the results showed that it’s not just one thing, but a lot of little things adding up. What follows is Bynum’s chances in the second half and overtime in the game against Milwaukee. (Not every missed shot is included, there were times Bynum was in a good position on one side of the rim and the ball just bounced another, and listing all those becomes a lesson in tediousness.)

11:04 Third Quarter: This has happened a fair amount in this game, Bynum was defending on Bogut (who was faced up on him 10 feet out). He did his primary job, contesting the shot, then turned to rebound but several steps away from the basket. The missed shot fell right off uncontested to Gasol (who did not have to jump to get it).

10:43 Third Quarter: Ilyasova takes a 20 foot jumper, and Bynum does a solid job boxing out Bogut on the left (weak) side, with Bynum’s feet on the charge circle so he is close to the basket, and Ron Artest slides right up behind Bogut. The problem for Drew is the long shot means a long rebound so while he jumps it goes over his head. It almost goes over Bogut, too, but he is just long enough to grab the board (Artest knocks the ball out of bounds).

10:05 Third Quarter:
Ilyasova gets the ball 20 feet out and Gasol goes out to cover, so Ilyasova drives right past him into the lane. Fisher and Bynum rotate to take away the shot, and the result was Ilyasova trying a floater that was not a real quality shot. But when Bynum stepped out nobody (and it was Artest’s job, although he had a long way to go) picked up Bogut, who had sort of hidden on the baseline then stepped out for good position and the easy putback.

9:20 Third Quarter: Lakers have the ball and Fisher takes a 15-footer from the wing, which he misses. As the shot goes up, Bynum puts a body on Bogut and clears out a good sized space for himself to get the board, but Bynum jumps too early and Bogut, moving around the Bynum box out, jumps later and gets the offensive board. This one is on Drew, that could have been an offensive rebound.

7:52 Third Quarter:
This happened a lot, too, both against the Bucks and the Bulls. Bynum was out contesting a 19-footer off the pick and roll, so he was in no position to get the rebounds. That is the right play (unless said shooter sucks).

7:18 Third Quarter:
Bynum is in good position but the ball bounces over to where Kobe is. (Just wanted to put one of these in.)

5:46 Third Quarter: Again Bynum comes out to the middle of the key to challenge penetration, so he is out of position for the rebound but was making the right play. Gasol gets the board.

5:24 Third Quarter: Apparently princes from Cameroon cannot consistently hit the 15-foot baseline jumper, and the Bucks have nobody underneath to go get the rebounds. Bynum and Kobe are the only two in the area, Bynum grabs the uncontested rebound.

4:40: Third Quarter: Lakers with the ball and Gasol takes a 16-footer straight away. Bynum is in position to fight if it comes off to the left. It goes right. But what is interesting here is Ron Artest was also on the left, slides under the basket and does fight, all the way to the baseline with Bogut for the ball (it goes out off Artest). Ron-Ron showed passion, he wanted it. Bynum’s rebounds tended to come because the ball went to him, not because he fought for it.

11:44 Fourth Quarter: Kobe with a elbow fade away from the right side and Bynum is in position for the offensive board, but with Warrick and Ilyasova right with him. Bynum’s length forces Warrick to overextend, and it goes out of bounds off Warrick to the Lakers.

11:23 Fourth Quarter:
Little thing here, but part of the larger point. Redd misses the second of his two free throw. The man next to Bynum just clears out back in transition defense, so Bynum has nobody to box out. But rather than step in and get the board, he kind of slides up the key to a no mans land, Odom steps in and grabs the easy board.

4:46 Overtime: Bogut has the ball and is working on Bynum on the left block. He fakes a move to his right into the lane then makes a quick spin move back to his preferred left and tries a five foot jump-hook he misses. Bynum contests but then watches the shot while Bogut busts around him to get the rebounds and when it comes off Bogut is inside Bynum, gets the board to keeps the play alive.

3:55 Overtime: Redd takes the patented Joel Meyer short corner three, this time Bynum finds a man (Ilyasova) to put a body on and gets good inside position, so good that even the charging in Bogut could not get the ball, although they did knock it away from Drew to Gasol. This may have been Bynum’s most energetic play of the night, not sure if he got credit for the official board but he made it possible holding off two men.

2:20 Overtime: Charlie Bell with the 17 footer and both Bynum and Gasol are in position, along with Bogut. Still it is the Australian who fights though two Lakers to control the ball and reset their offense.

Preview & Chat: The Bucks

Kurt —  December 16, 2009

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Records: Lakers 19-4 (1st in West) Bucks 11-11 (6th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.3 (12th in league), Bucks 104.2 (24th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 99.4 (1st in league) Bucks 103.3 (7th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bucks: Brandon Jennings, Carlos Delfino, Prince Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Andrew Bogut

The Lakers Coming in: The win over the Bulls was not a pretty thing. My advice: Get used to it. This is what road games look like — teams are not tired at home, and they are not going to roll over for the Lakers in front of their fans. They will have more fight, and the games will be closer. What matters in the end is that the Lakers stay healthy (you know, like not have any other players fracture a finger), develop some toughness (I think the Lakers still have that from last year) and get the wins. So, on that scale, Chicago was a success.

Kobe scored 42 with an avulsion fracture that would have sidelined every other player in the NBA. I don’t think you can say often enough how impressive that is.

The two things to watch going forward on this trip are:

Kobe’s ball handling. In the comments there was a discussion that ball handling may be more of a concern than shooting, and so far that seems to be the case. He torched the Chicago to the point Bulls fans were “oohhing and aahhhhing” and his shot looked just fine. But there were 8 turnovers. We should really watch that tonight as the Bucks are a team that really works to create turnovers (and transition baskets off them).

The other is Bynum and rebounding. There are reasons his numbers are down from the start of the year — Gasol is back, for one. Last night, he had Brad Miller on a defensive assignment and that pulled him away from the basket. But THREE rebounds? None for a full half the other night? Rebounds are one part of the game that are about desire. Remember Charles “Round Mound of Rebound” Barkley? Stand next to him and he is 6-4, 6-5 tops, yet he was a beast on the boards. There are a few factors in being a good rebounder, but at the top of the list is desire. Right now, Drew is showing passion when it comes to scoring, and his defense has been good. We’ll be breaking this down more later.

The Bucks Coming in: In November, the Bucks were the sensation in NBA circles — they had Brendon Jennings dropping 55 as a rookie, they were fun to watch and were catching teams off guard. But you only catch teams in the NBA off guard for so long — the Bucks are 3-7 in their last 10 and Jennings is shooting 42% (eFG%).

Jennings is the kind of guard built for today’s NBA — lightning quick and impossible to stop one-on-one. Unless he stops himself, which he is doing more and more of as teams have adjusted to him. Jennings often comes off ball screens but if he can’t turn the corner he has no fear putting up a jumper. Even if that is a long two-pointer with a hand in his face and a lot of time left on the shot clock. It’s a rookie mistake, one to be expected and something he needs to adjust for, but that takes time. If he does turn the corner, watch out. But even then teams are packing the paint and not letting him have an uncontested layup anymore, and he needs to find open teammates as part of that.

It’s a maturing process, but Jennings brings a confidence, intelligence and those jets that you just can’t teach. He could be special.

The Bucks are not a one-man show, however. Andrew Bogut continues to be a quality big man giving them a presence inside at both ends of the floor, and he dropped 27 on the Blazers the other night on 12 of 19 shooting. Luke Rindnour is has a true shooting percentage over 60% (which kind of shocking). I look forward to watching more of Ersan Ilyasova, who seems to be playing well and hitting the boards hard. Michael Redd is not what he was, but he comes off the bench for them and on any given night can fill it up again.

Blogs and Links: Check out Bucksketball (who predicts the Lakers win, so we like them already).

Keys to game: The Bucks bring to the table a formula that should scare Lakers fans a little — a big man who can step out from the hoop combined with a lightning quick point guard. In the past, that has been a troubling combination for the Lakers.

The Bucks are a pick-and-roll team as the start to their offense, with Jennings having the ball in his hands. The top priority for the Lakers needs to be keeping Jennings from getting layups coming off that screen with no one there to stop him from turning the corner. You can force Jennings into bad, rookie shots. It’s basic pick and roll offense, but the Lakers need to be focused tonight.

Bogut should be a familiar matchup for Bynum because it’s a little like guarding Pau in practice. Bogut has a variety of post moves and a jumper out to 15 feet,. Right now, despite all the Jennings hype, Bogut is the center of their offense, the Lakers need to be focused on shutting them down.

The Bucks, not surprisingly with Scott Skiles as coach, can play pretty tenacious defense. If the Lakers become an isolation team it will play into the hands of the shell style defense they play (similar to what the Bulls did a few years back). Ball movement, passing and cutting will get the Lakers good looks.

The Bucks are also third in the NBA in terms of turnovers created per possession — then they can get Jennings running out in the open court where stopping him would be nearly impossible. The Lakers need to take care of the ball (Kobe, that means you).

Where you can watch: This game is on Channel 9 here in Los Angels starting at 5, and also is on ESPN 710 radio.

Preview & Chat: The Chicago Bulls

Kurt —  December 15, 2009

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Records: Lakers 18-4 (1st in West) Bulls 8-14 (11th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.5 (10th in league), Bulls 98.0 (28th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 99.7 (2nd in league) Bulls 107.4 (18th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Bulls: Derrick Rose, John Salmons, Loul Deng, Brad Miller, Joakim Noah

The Lakers Coming in: First, Kobe is feeling better and will be playing tonight for the Lakers, the stomach virus seems to be gone. For those of you wondering how he gets these bugs, you need to have kids to truly understand. I love my daughters more than anything, but they are a walking petri dish.

Speaking of players feeling better (not the best transition ever), has a very interesting interview with Lakers Trainer Gary Viti up that is well worth the read: No other NBA trainer has held his current job longer. How do you feel about being one of the league’s elder statesmen in what you do?

GV: I consider myself one of the last of ‘the old new guys.’ There have been trainers around since the gladiators. But the modern days of athletic training probably began in the late ’70s, OK? When there were only a few schools that had a degree in sports medicine. So when I broke in [in 1979-80 at the University of Utah], it was the modern science of training but there were still a lot of the old-timers around. It was a good combination for me, because there’s no replacement for experience. I learned a lot from the old guys, but then I had a more modern education. That’s your official job. Do you have any unofficial roles with the Lakers?

GV: I’m also guy who kind of connects our upstairs and downstairs here. Downstairs is the players, the equipment guys, all of our therapists, our performance coaches. Upstairs is our management team, whether it’s Mitch Kupchak, Ronnie Lester, Jim Buss and in many ways all the coaches, who have their offices up there. They come down for practice but then they go back up there.

I’m the eyes and ears down here all the time. That doesn’t mean I tell [management] everything. Sometimes I go up there and say something, and Phil or Mitch will ask, ‘Who?’ And I’ll go, ‘I’m not telling you that. I’m just telling you blah-blah-blah.’ And then sometimes I’ll tell them who, what, when and where. And sometimes I won’t say anything if I think things will just work themselves out. It’s my tenure and experience, and that management has to trust me that I’ll tell them what they need to know and nothing more than that.

I also have these conversations with the players. I say, ‘Look, I’m telling you right now that there are times I go up there and tell ’em stuff. So do the right thing.’ They know there are times that I protect them. So everybody sort of has to trust me. One of the things I tell them is, I’ll never lie to you. But I’ll also never lie for you.

The Bulls Coming in: Since we last saw the Bulls, the team has just about self-destructed. To get some insight as to what happened, and who is at fault, Matt over at Bulls By the Horns answered a few questions for me.

1) Last playoffs Derek Rose was carving up the Celtics defense like a Christmas ham, this season his numbers are down across the board. He is getting fewer shots at the rim and more in the midrange. What is going on here?

Simply put, the Bulls have no spacing. Part of this (a big part) is the loss of Ben Gordon. Another part is the fact that the Bulls’ “shooters” can’t shoot (32 percent three-point shooting for John Salmons, 28 percent for Kirk Hinrich, and 30 percent for Jannero Pargo, who’s barely playing). Opposing teams are clogging the paint or helping on defense early and often because they have nothing to fear from Chicago’s long-range shooting. Of course, Rose was injured to start the season, which limited his explosive ability in the early going. But the bigger problem is that the Bulls cannot spread the floor as presently constructed. Unless somebody — anybody — starts knocking down shots from long range.

Pargo wasn’t unleashed on the Celtics until garbage time, but went 4-for-8 in less than nine minutes of PT, including one trey and a couple long jumpers. I’m not sure why Vinny Del Negro is leaving him, forgotten, at the end of the bench.

2) Vinny is taking a lot of heat for this year’s squad. Is that fair? Is the long-term plan for this team really about who they can add this summer through free agency?

Some of the criticisms of Vinny are entirely fair. He doesn’t appear to have a clear, consistent vision for the team. There’s no identity. Sometimes he says they need to run, other times he says they need to “gang rebound.” Well, running teams can’t gang rebound, can they? So which is it? I don’t know. I’m not sure Vinny knows either.

But in Vinny’s defense, this is a poorly constructed team. First off, as everybody knows, the Bulls do not have a low post scorer. Luol Deng can occasionally post up, but whether it’s a coaching decision or he doesn’t like mixing it up in the paint, Deng rarely posts. Second, the Bulls didn’t enter the season with any consistent three-point shooters. And I mean guys who have consistently hit a high percentage of their long-distance shots over multiple seasons. Hinrich and Salmons were great last season, but that might have been a classic “one-season tease” (and it sure seems to be at this point). Plus, as I pointed out, Rose was injured to start the season, Tyrus Thomas has only appeared in four games so far, and Hinrich has had a variety of injuries that have inhibited him and forced him to miss time.

So while Vinny has by no means been great, or above average, or even mediocre…he doesn’t have much to work with. Let’s not forget that Doc Rivers looked like a rotten coach and the people of Boston were ready to run him out of town before Danny Ainge gave him Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to work with.

As it is, everything hinges on the Bulls either making a major move in the already legendary (even though it hasn’t happened yet) Summer of 2010, or making some sort of major trade by this season’s deadline. Either way, by this time next season, I’d be willing to bet at least half of this year’s roster is playing somewhere else (or not at all).

Blogs and Links: There is Matt’s Bulls By The Horns, and of course there is the legendary Blog-a-Bull, one of the OG NBA blogs and still going strong.

Keys to game: The Bulls try to generate a lot of their points two ways. One is through transition — give them easy buckets and they get rolling. The Lakers did a good job shutting this down last meeting, something they need to do again (make shots, grab offensive boards and run back down the court).

The other way is through dribble penetration, usually from Rose. Lately, the Bulls have been going to wide spread formations to facilitate this, but they stop their effectiveness without a ton of help. One reason, as Matt mentioned, is they can’t hit an outside shot consistently so teams can collapse. The other reason is that Rose has fallen in love with the running floater shot, which is not his strong suit. He will likely try to send a couple over Gasol and Bynum tonight. The Lakers should let him take those, just don’t foul.

Last meeting, the Bulls really struggled to defend the Lakers from the post. They tried to double Kobe and he picked them apart. Plus, the Miller/Noah frontline cannot stop Gasol and Bynum, so the bigs should get their touches. What I will say for Noah is he hustles on the boards, the Lakers need to put a body on him.

Where you can watch: This game is on Channel 9 here in Los Angels starting at 5. Or, check out ESPN 710 where the soothing voice of Luke Walton will be missed (welcome back Mychal).