Archives For December 2009

Preview & Chat: The Detroit Pistons

Kurt —  December 20, 2009

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Records: Lakers 21-4 (1st in West) Pistons 11-15 (7th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.2 (13th in league), Pistons 106.2 (18th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 99.2 (1st in league) Pistons 108.4 (19th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Pistons: Chucky Atkins, Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxiell, Ben Wallace

The Lakers Coming in: Don’t disrespect your opponents. Don’t disrespect the game.

The Lakers did not respect their opponents for the first half last night, figuring they could roll past the Nets whether or not they moved their feet on screens, made the right cuts or generally hustled all out. The coaching staff disrespected the opponents by having Adam Morrison as the second guy off the bench and DJ Mbenga in early, theoretically be cause LA could still win easy they could rest their starters on the front end of a back to back.

And the Lakers were down at halftime.

The Lakers pulled away in the third and made a big run in the fourth with the bench guys in. Most importantly, the Lakers got the win, but it did cost them a chance to rest the starters — Kobe, Gasol and Artest all played plenty of minutes.

The one starter who didn’t was Andrew Bynum, who was in foul trouble again. Silver Screen and Roll has a post up about this worth reading.

Look, big men can fall prey to fluky whistles sometimes. There’s a lot of grappling in the paint, and some nights amid the scrum the refs tag you with a foul or three you didn’t really deserve. I get that. Drew does, though, get caught flat-footed and slow to rotate more than he should. His D on the whole has been better than many in our game threads give him credit for, but it hasn’t been good here in mid-December. Too many times, he gets beat and then to prevent the layup clobbers a guy from behind. His discipline, attentiveness and technique need to get better.

The Pistons Coming in: Not only are the Pistons still without Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton, but now you can add Ben Gordon to the injured list and he is a game time decision. Tough to win much with your three best players on the bench, hence things like the current three-game losing streak.

Rodney Stuckey has been scoring a lot, 31 a couple nights ago, but the coach John Kuester has had frustrations with him getting others involved, and his defensive game. One place the Pistons have been getting great play is from Charlie Villanueva, who is getting space down on the block then shooting 68% when he does. Also, Will Bynum is the kind of spark plug every team wants off the bench, even if he needs to improve his shooting.

Keys to game: We will see how the Lakers are feeling physically, they got out of Newark last night, then skipped morning shoot around. (They are doing better than the beat reporters, who have to fly commercial, and will not make the game due to the storm out east.) The good news is the Pistons play at the second slowest pace in the league, so they are not going to run the Lakers out of the building. (The slowest? Portland.)

What the Pistons did with success against the Lakers last meeting was creating mismatches, the Lakers switched on some screens and ended up with matchups like Artest on the quicker Stuckey, then he Pistons did a good job recognizing and isolated. The Lakers need to be more aware and get something they got little of last time — weakside help.

The other things the Lakers gave up was layups on a simple little handoff/rub action. Again the Lakers got caught without some weakside help.

The Lakers still one that game handily, and they did so in part because the Pistons had no answer for Gasol and Bynum working together in the high low. The Lakers need Bynum to show up tonight, to carry some offensive load. Kobe will get his, they have nobody who can defend him (look for the more athletic Jerebko to get the call, but do you really want a rookie on Kobe?).

What hurt the Lakers in that game was too much freelancing, something that always tends to hurt them. With tired legs, the Lakers need to go with what works and not try to freelance and take on more than they should.

This is going to be a close one folks.

Where you can watch: This game is on Channel 9 here in Los Angels starting at 3, and also is on ESPN 710 radio.

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.