Archives For Trades

The Deal That Died

Darius Soriano —  December 9, 2011

 It’s been over a half day since the Lakers had Chris Paul in their mitts only to suddenly not. It’s a nifty magic trick to make a player disappear in plain sight but that’s what the owners of the Hornets – who double as the owners of the other 29 franchises in the NBA – did on Thursday evening.

Rehashing every detail inspires anger, but somewhat necessary. The Lakers were set to deal away two thirds of their advantageous front court for the purest point guard in the land. Gasol and Odom – two pillars of character and, combined, elite production – would be shipped away. Their loss can not be overstated or overlooked. Without them the Lakers don’t win back to back championships in ’09 and ’10; they don’t make an unthought-of of Finals run in ’08; they’re not considered one of the handful of championship contenders every season.

In return they would have gotten the six foot maestro of tempo and efficiency the league has not seen the likes of in a generation. The evolutionary Zeke Thomas with the mean streak to match. For all the concerns about a suspect wheel, Paul is a bona fide top 5 player in the league and impacts the game in ways other play makers simply don’t. I remember the first round of the playoffs in 2011 quite well with guys like David Andersen and Aaron Gray looking like above average big men and slashers like Trevor Ariza and Willie Green getting hit in stride in the creases of a Laker defense thought to be too formidable to be pushed by such average talents. Paul elevates his teammates. He can make depleted rosters better and would have done so with the Lakers holdovers that match that “average” description. What he could have done for the games of Andrew Bynum or Kobe Bryant inspire a wry grin just thinking of it.

But it’s not to be. The league has decreed the deal dead. That has consequences the must be looked at:

The Bad
The Lakers find themselves in the unenviable position of having players on their roster that feel unwanted. Lamar Odom – a key lockerroom cog, a leader, an unquestioned talent – did not report to training camp today. Pau Gasol did report and tweeted messages of positivity, but lets be real: he too is surely upset and wonders where he stands within the Laker organization regardless of how he thinks of himself as an all world talent.

The Lakers need to heal and in a compressed season under a new coaching staff where there was barely going to be enough time to learn sets, they now have to re-learn how to trust; how to co-exist. A fractured relationship does not get repaired the same way that a leaky back side coverage of a pick and roll does. This can’t be remedied by the x’s and o’s on a grease board.

Is Mike Brown – an excellent teacher – up to the task of being a healer? We shall see but the challenge is in front of him now.

He’ll also need help from the other leaders on this team. Kobe Bryant must reach out to his mates to reassure them that a management decision does not impact his mind about what these players mean to him, to his team. Phil Jackson is gone now,Kobeis the holdover that must channel some of that zen to bring his mates back into the fold of the family. Derek Fisher must also step in and perform some of his own unifying magic. The man that led the union in a fight against the owners must now lead his players in a similar fight against those that wish to tear the team apart.

I don’t envy anyone in this scenario. Their work is hard and there’s no set path to walk to get it done.

The Good
Despite that awkwardness that will exist it needs to be remembered that the Lakers roster, as constructed, is a damned good one. Those rumors that had them acquiring some of the best players in the world are only in place because the existing talent is good enough to bring those players toLos Angeles. Those that don’t believe in this team have the Mavericks series fresh on their minds and I don’t blame them. However, those that do believe understand that a healthy off-season for every single one of the Lakers top 6 players just happened.

KobeBryant is refreshed. Andrew Bynum is, by all accounts, ready to make an impact as far reaching as his mammoth wing span. Removing the emotional baggage discussed above will be difficult for Gasol and Odom (especially Odom) but they too had a long off-season to recuperate, reflect, and recharge. This team has motivation to prove the doubters wrong and even without a Paul or a Howard are primed to make a push. A team doesn’t go from elite to afterthought overnight. At least not this one; not with #24 on the team.

A balance must be struck. The deal that was reported died. It was killed by a league of owners that are too busy worried about their pocket books and the fortunes of the Lakers to see anything else but what helps line their own pockets. Commissioner David Stern has become the anti Pinocchio turning from a human to a puppet right before our eyes. This is nature of the league now and as a basketball fan this angers me to no end.

But as a Lakers fan, the time to feel bad or be angry is pretty much over. It’s now time to work on healing. And learning. The season starts in 16 days when the Bulls visit the team. As far as I know – as far as anyone knows – the team as constituted now (save for some FA signings to address depth) will be the team that dives into the trenches together on Christmas Day. The deal that died must soon become a memory – just as all things that pass away do.

UPDATE: Well,  then. The NBA has decided not to approve the trade. In a statement from a league spokesman Mike Bass:

“It’s not true that the owners killed the deal, the deal was never discussed at the Board of Governors meeting and the league office declined to make the trade for basketball reasons.”

We’ll have more on this fiasco in a bit.

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In a blockbuster trade that many thought possible but few (meaning me) didn’t think would come nearly so soon (if at all) the Lakers have acquired Chris Paul from the Hornets for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in a three team deal includes the Rockets.

I’ll have much more on the trade a bit later, but for now, park your comments below.

In a vacuum, trading for Dwight Howard is a no brainer. He is, by any measurement, the premier big man in the league. He’s been the defensive player of the year 3 years in a row, has been the 1st team all-NBA Center four years in a row, was 2nd in last year’s MVP vote, and is a fixture at the all-star game. In a league where being an elite two way player boosts your value exponentially, Howard is the best of the best. And while every player has his detractors and no player is perfect, these are the facts.

But trades don’t happen in a vacuum. The other team must agree to take on players and there are ramifications – both on and off the court – that play into any decision. Trades of this magnitude are never as easy as fans would like them to be and the issues at play can submarine a deal as quickly as the original rumor pops up.

So, exploring this potential trade from a variety of angles is necessary:

Continue Reading…

The trade and free agent rumors are coming fast and furious. Every “available” player is now seemingly being linked to the Lakers. Just taking an inventory, here are the names that I’ve read the Lakers are interested in acquiring either via trade or in free agency (includes potential amnestied players):

  • Dwight Howard
  • Chris Paul
  • Jamal Crawford
  • Baron Davis
  • Rashard Lewis
  • J.J. Barrea
  • Tayshaun Prince
  • Aaron Aflalo
  • Shane Battier
  • Delonte West
  • Josh McRoberts
  • Jason Kapono

Granted, all of these names in some way, shape, or form make sense. They’re either some of the best players in the league or fill skill and/or positional holes for the current Lakers team. In a lot of ways, the Lakers would be well off to have even one of them, much less two or three of them.

But lets forget the names for a second. After all, if the Lakers actually acquire a player, we can analyze it at that point. Instead, lets focus on how names end up being reported in the first place.

Leaks of information almost always come back to establishing some sort of leverage. Whether to increase the dollar amount of a contract offer, to sweeten the pot of players included in a trade, to play agents or teams off each other…there are countless reasons information ends up in the hands of the media to be reported to the masses. I mean, teams, agents, and players are all looking for the best offer for them and however they can get there is fair game.

Relating this back to the Lakers and the names listed above, this is the perspective that needs to be taken into account when considering whether any acquisition is really possible. Do you think it’s more likely that the Lakers could actually acquire both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul or that there’s been some sort of leak to play parties off each other in order to execute a favorable deal? Do you think it’s more likely that the Lakers sign all those FA wings or that the information given to the media is being used advantageously to get a client a better offer?

Remember, this isn’t the first time the Lakers’ name has been dropped in a trade a rumor. Last season it was Carmelo Anthony. The year before that it was Chris Bosh. Right now it’s Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Give it enough time and Deron Williams name will pop up too.

The Lakers have the types of assets to make a deal; this much is not debatable. And, like every other team in the league, they’d surely have interest in acquiring the best players currently lacing up their sneakers. However, the internal workings of how a trade actually gets done is rarely broadcasted to the masses. At least, not with this Laker team; not with Mitch Kupchak running the show.

And this is where leverage comes into play. From a team’s standpoint, a trade will always be about getting the best asset possible while giving up as little as possible. From a player’s and agent’s standpoint, it’s about getting to the most desirable destination while getting the maximum amount of money. The information that is given to the media is meant to help accomplish those goals from whoever is doing the leaking.

Understand that right now the Lakers are a natural target for anyone and everyone. As mentioned earlier, they have the trade pieces to placate an opposing team’s wants in a deal. As a free agent destination the Lakers are also prime real estate as a championship contender with a fixed contract to offer that other teams will have to exceed to acquire any given player. Using this information as leverage in the whirlwind market in front of us is also the natural maneuver.

So, take a step back and see these rumors for the leverage seeking moves that they are. It doesn’t mean that a deal won’t happen, but as history has proven – especially with this Lakers team – it surely doesn’t mean it will either. At this point we’re all best served avoiding the circus. I know I will be.

Over the weekend, Silver Screen and Roll had a couple of great posts on the Lakers and their current point guard situation, and more importantly, how to solve it. While I understand that the Lakers problem is at the point guard position, I don’t think it’s a problem that the Lakers should exactly go out of their way to solve considering that both upgrading through free agency or trade both have their own pitfalls to overcome. While I’d like to see an upgrade at the top, I wonder if it’s going to be too difficult to make this happen considering that the Lakers are seeing frontcourt depth and a backup for Kobe with a natural ability to score. The Lakers are going to be looking to try and make a lot of small tweaks to their roster, and I’m not sure if upgrading the point guard is the most important issue at this point. However, I recognize that it is an issue and this section from Dexter Fishmore really hammers it home:

But Fish is a lion in winter. He turns 37 next month, and his abilities are in decline. For a guy whose only offensive role the past few seasons has been to knock down open looks, his shooting numbers are unacceptably poor. He can’t beat anyone off the dribble. On defense, he lacks the lateral mobility to check even average point guards, to say nothing of the elite PG’s the Lakers face in the playoffs.

To make matters worse, the Lakers are abandoning the system that allowed them to mask many of Fish’s shortcomings. In Phil Jackson‘s Triangle offense, Fish was a semi-viable option because the system neither required nor could even really accommodate a classic, ball-dominating point. The Lakers won’t have the same luxury under Mike Brown. His playbook calls for the point guard to assume a more traditional playmaking role, of which Fish is simply incapable.

How do the Lakers upgrade, though. As they’re currently sitting, they’re dishing out about 91 million in salary already. Picking up through free agency will not only be costly monetarily, but could be equally costly to the Lakers chances on the court considering the not-so-high-profile crop of free agent point guards on the market this year. While there is some talent in free agency, all of it will likely come at a price that the Lakers ultimately won’t be able to afford, all things “new collective bargaining” considered. What about through trade?

Emile Avanessian wrote convincingly about the Lakers acquiring Ramon Sessions through trade when he wrote:

Thus, the Lakers will likely have to try their luck in the trade market.

Let me direct your attention to a 25-year-old point guard whose 2010-11 Adjusted PER of 21.05 (all statistics via HoopData) dwarfed the average for both the league (14.17) and his position (15.71), was good for 23rd in the NBA (minimum 40 games played) and seventh among lead guards, trailing only Russell WestbrookDerrick RoseChris PaulDeron WilliamsSteve Nash and Tony Parker. The 4.54 Adjusted Win Shares he contributed were also well above average (3.44 for the league, 3.72 for point guards), and better than the totals for Jameer Nelsonor Jason Terry.

Meanwhile, his 24.21 usage rate was 49th in the league. In 26.3 minutes per game, he averaged 13.3 points and 5.2 assists (a Tony Parker-esque 18.1 and 7.3 per 36 minutes played) and shot 46.6% from the field. His 55.9% True Shooting Percentage trumped the league and point guard averages (54.5% and 53.6%, respectively) and he got to the free-throw line more than your average NBA’er (0.55 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt, vs. the league average of 0.298). Was he able to get his own shot? You bet: just 28.5% of field goals were “assisted,” compared with 36.9% for point guards leaguewide.

But again, this ultimately forces the Lakers in a tough position considering that no teams are going to give up efficient talent without some kind of return, and nine times out of 10, that return is likely going to be size  — an advantage that took the Lakers to three consecutive trips to the Finals. Do you give up your biggest advantage for a Ramon Sessions-esque talent. Some might say yes, just so we don’t have to watch Derek Fisher start for another 82+ games, but it’s hard to imagine any situation where that is the right move.

For next season, the Lakers just might have to play some of their young guys a lot more than what we’ve seen since, well, Kobe and Fish were the young guys. The Lakers drafted Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris, two guys who both have ball handling experience despite their very different skill sets. As of right now, those two might be the Lakers most viable and realistic options unless teams are just waiting to take on Ron Artest’s and/or Luke Walton’s contracts. The point guard might not be the most thrilling part of the Lakers team (which it hasn’t been since Nick Van Exel), and I’m okay with that. Some will disagree completely, but I think adding depth to the front court and finding another wing who can get his own shot off are more important issues the Lakers need to take care of for the next season.

Welcome To Rumorville

Darius Soriano —  February 8, 2011

The last two plus weeks before the trade deadline are always the most active when it comes to proposed deals, leaks, and misdirection. Teams are consistently working the phones trying to improve their teams’ prospects for the current and future seasons while simultaneously working the media to try and gain leverage in accomplishing these goals.

Today, we’ve seen the perfect example of this with the latest report that the Lakers are “in discussions” with the Nuggets involving a trade for Carmelo Anthony. Chris Broussard (who has a good reputation in being on top of such matters – he was one of the first reporting LeBron to Miami) has the scoop:

The Lakers and the Denver Nuggets have had preliminary discussions about a blockbuster trade that would send Carmelo Anthony to Los Angeles, according to league sources. The Lakers’ package would be built around Andrew Bynum.

When you dig deeper into the column though, you get a better sense of how close this deal actually is (or in this case, isn’t):

It is believed that the Lakers have not yet made an offer for Anthony but that the two clubs have merely had discussions. (emphasis mine)

And more:

The Lakers’ front office is not in full agreement on dealing Bynum…Jim Buss, son of owner Jerry, was in charge of the franchise when Bynum was drafted with the 10th pick in 2005 and has consistently resisted any attempts to move him, including a deal for free-agent-to-be Chris Bosh last season.

So, really, this seems like some smoke but not a lot of fire. In reality, I see this leak more as a way for Denver to gain leverage in any deal that they do ultimately strike in sending Anthony away. Denver knows that once the Nets dropped out of the ‘Melo sweepstakes, they not only lost their best offer but they also lost the deal that they could leverage all other deals against. The most recent offer from the Knicks (in a reported three team deal involving the Timberwolves) reflects that as the Nuggets would have received marginal talent back, fewer draft picks and young players, and only a big salary savings to show for losing their franchise player. 

When viewed from this perspective, it makes perfect sense that the Nuggets would try to engage other teams into talks, discuss more desirable pieces (in this case Bynum, and then use those talks as leverage to other teams as evidence that the offers that come in need to be better than the one they’re discussing. This isn’t to say that “talks” aren’t happening or havne’t occured. Mitch Kupchak said that he’d be more than willing to engage teams in trade talks just  a week ago. 

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However, why these talks are out there is a different subject than whether or not the deal is a good one. Forget the extra pieces that would likely be involved so the Nuggets are happy with the final outcome (it’s been widely reported they want to dump bad contracts – see Harrington, Al – in a Melo trade) and just  deal with a straight up swap of Melo for Bynum.

Does this make the Lakers a better team? That’s a complex question that needs to be looked at from both the short and long term.

At Land O’ Lakers, Brian Kamenetzky touches on both angles, but has this to say about the short term prospect of swapping the two:

Doing so in the middle of the season, even for a more established star like Anthony, makes a three-peat for the Lakers less likely. Short the highly improbable scenario of swapping Bynum for another high-end 7-footer, removing him from the equation and integrating (likely) another A-list wing or backcourt scorer, Anthony or otherwise — reworking how the Lakers operate on both ends of the floor — fundamentally changes LA to the point it would be tough to jell in time to go all the way.

If the goal of any trade is to win this year, a blockbuster deal involving Bynum isn’t the best route. It’s more the emergency-chute option, and despite legitimate concerns about the Lakers, they’re not at that point. They haven’t even jumped out of the plane, yet. The Lakers remain elite as constructed and prominent in any credible championship conversation, and I firmly believe this core deserves a chance to keep the streak alive.

Brian does, however, go on to say that he’d likely pull the trigger (go read the entire piece for his reasoning – it’s well thought out). In an email exchange I had with Reed, he also said that he’d do the deal:

I understand the fit issues, but in the end I’d do it. The key question to me is — what gives you the better opportunity to win titles over the next 5 years. I think healthy Bynum is a better fit this season, next to Kobe and Pau, but we’ve never seen healthy Drew in the playoffs. And, I think we need to start thinking a little about what happens when Kobe slows down, which he is already doing (he isn’t closing in the final minutes against great teams like in the past). Melo + Pau is a really nice combination. So, I like Melo over Drew over the next 5 years.

Personally, I see both sides of this (and Reed’s point about long term planning is a key one) but continue to lean towards keeping Bynum. For one, the Lakers’ size is one of their biggest strengths and any deal that diminishes that without bringing in a quality big to supplement Pau/Odom is not worth it to me. And while I don’t want to get too picky, it would need to be a big man that is skilled enough to play in the Triangle, is defensive minded, and is less a health risk than Bynum. Guys like that don’t exactly grow on trees. And if we’re only talking Bynum/Melo in this trade, who steps into the back up Center role for the Lakers? Ratliff is injured, Joe Smith barely plays in blowouts, and Caracter hasn’t yet earned the trust of the coaches.

Second, I think pairing Kobe with another high usage wing is somewhat problematic. Both can be prone to inefficient shooting nights and both do a fair amount of work out of the triple threat where they are prone to holding the ball, waiting for a potential double team, and then attacking with their own shot if the second defender doesn’t come. I envision there being some harsh growing pains as those two learn to play off each other while still involving Gasol at the level he’d need to be for the offense to still run smoothly.

Third, there is the issue of team composition. Right now, the Lakers have a trio of bigs to rotate between PF/C, four wings to alternate between SG and SF (with a healthy Barnes), and two point guards. If Melo comes in that dynamic shifts. There’s the issue of who picks up minutes at back up Center that I already mentioned, but how do the SF minutes get divided. I know that Melo (or Barnes/Artest) could play PF in spot minutes to relieve Odom, but all of those guys are natural SF’s and none of them are viable options at SG. That means you’re really not getting a lot of minutes for 2 of the top 8 players on the team (Artest and Barnes).

In the end, I don’t see a deal like this happening, but I do see the value in exploring it. I’m not on board. But reasonable arguments do exist that would be for it. What are your thoughts?

Silly me.

After yesterday’s talk about Lakers and trades and some smart people saying the same things about the likelihood of the Lakers making a deal (hint: not likely), I thought we could all move on and focus on the games – a Lakers win vs. the Rockets first on deck – and get back to our analysis of the team. Not so much.

Today it’s being reported by Marc Stein (a reporter whose word and credentials I trust and respect a great deal) that if the Lakers do make a deal, Ron Artest would like to be the one to switch teams. As Stein explains:

I’ve nonetheless been assured this week that Artest — though he hasn’t outright demanded a trade and is likely to publicly deny it — is serious about wanting to be dealt somewhere “he can have fun again” less than a year removed from the pivotal role he played in that ring-clinching Game 7 with Boston that the Lakers so nearly squandered.

More from Stein:

It was stressed to me that Artest has actually coexisted better with Jackson since it emerged in December that Artest asked his coach to stop criticizing him so publicly and keep displeasure in-house. Despite Artest’s increasingly regular stints on the bench in crunch time, I get the distinct vibe that settling for offensive scraps in the shadow of Kobe and Pau while absorbing the hottest heat on afternoons like Sunday when Paul Pierce erupts for 32 points has soured Artest far more than Jackson’s frequently sharp tongue.

All I can really say to this is, I can’t believe it took this long for something like this to happen.

You see, this is nothing new. Like birds flying south in winter or bears hybernating or the Lakers Grammy road trip, this is a yearly occurence. You can set your watch to it. Two years ago it was Bynum’s injury (along with toughness talk). Last year it was the the Lakers’ complacency (and a late season swoon). And this year, it’s this (among other things). There’s just an expected amount of drama when discussing the Lakers. Just the other day, we discussed the scrutiny of being a Laker in relation to the criticism that Pau Gasol has been receiving lately. Even the head coach knows this, mentioning after the Boston loss that he may not embrace the adversity, he certainly doesn’t hide from it.

In the end, I don’t think Artest is being traded. Aside from any issues with unloading a contract that isn’t quite payroll friendly (though far from the worst deal considering his talent – and yes, he still has talent), the Lakers need Artest. Snicker all you want at his 1-10 shooting or his career low output in a lot of statistical categories, but both Phil and Kobe know Ron’s value to this team. His ability to defend is rare. You can point to Paul Pierce’s explosion on Sunday, but I’ll happily counter with the fact that all great offensive players are capable of great days and all defenders are capable of bad ones. After explaining that, I’ll happily point to the combined 18-42 shooting that Carmelo and Durant put up against the Lakers in the last two weeks (which fall in line with how he’s performed against them in the past). And when it comes to the playoffs, I’m betting on more performances like the latter.

I can surely understand that Artest may be frustrated. Fans love to point out where players are falling short and there’s a fair amount of ammunition in relation to Ron’s recent performance. I know his role isn’t what a player of his overall ability is used to performing and that even after reaching the mountain top, players still have egos. I’m sure he thinks he can be more than a 4th option and a guy that isn’t guaranteed crunch time minutes. But, again, I think he’s here to stay. When the games slow down and the Lakers face off against elite wings, this team will need Artest. The guys that are in that lockerroom understand that.

Records: Lakers 33-15 (2nd in West), Rockets 22-27 (11th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.5 (2nd in NBA), Rockets (110.1 (5th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.1 (10th in NBA), Rockets 109.9 (24th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Rockets: Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes and Andrew Bynum (both out); Rockets:Yao Ming (out), Jared Jeffries & Courtney Lee & Brad Miller (all questionable)

The Lakers Coming in: Two straight losses (especially when one is to the Celtics) has a lot of fans panicking and has GM Mitch Kupchak talking about exploring trade options. My brief take on this is that a trade is doubtful for several reasons:

  • The Lakers have few trade-able assets that aren’t core players that the team doesn’t want to get rid of. I’m sure the Lakers are more than willing to explore trades of guys like Walton, Ebanks, and Caracter. And while Artest and Blake are guys that aren’t performing up to expectations right now, their contracts are problematic AND they’re guys that do have defined roles on the team. Brown and Barnes have low salaries and thus can’t fetch much back unless it’s an equally low paid player that the Lakers trust to play well. That leaves Bynum, Odom, Gasol, Fisher, and Kobe. Raise your hand if you think the Lakers would seriously consider trading any of those guys. (Note: my hand is still down.)
  • Money is still an issue for this team. Besides the Pau Gasol trade, the every Laker trade has been made to cut costs. Radman and Sasha were salary dumps. It’s very unlikely at this point that the team is willing to add to an already league high payroll.
  • Mitch Kupchak typically keeps things quiet. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall any leaks about the trades that brought in Gasol, Ariza, Shannon/Ammo, or Joe Smith. Mitch normally doesn’t let information out easily. The fact that he openly discussed the possibility of a trade actually leads me to believe a trade is less likely, not more.

That last point is the key one to me, though. Kupchak’scomments that a shake up may be in order centered entirely around the performance of the current group. His comments included several references to the team having enough talent and that it’s currently under-performing. That sounds like a man that’s telling his team to get in gear, not one that’s planning a big move. I could be wrong, obviously. But the public nature of this discussion andthe fact that the core players (i.e. players with trade value) are guys the team wants to keep has me thinking no deal is eminent. We’ll see though.

The other major news of the day is that Andrew Bynum has been ruled out of tonight’s game. An MRI exam showed a bone bruise on his left knee andif you noticed him limping or sporting some tape aroundthat leg during the Boston game, that’s why. (As an aside, the right knee is the one with the brace and the one that he had off-season surgery on.) After yesterday’s practice, Phil relayed the fact that Drew hoped to play tonight, but alas he’s been ruled out. I know that the words “Bynum” “hurt” and “knee” often cause panic, but based off reports this isn’t serious. Hopefully he’ll be back by Thursday to face the Spurs. We’ll get you updates as we get them. 

The Rockets Coming in: Honestly, this team has been flying under the radar for me of late. When you look at their schedule, they’re 2-4 in their last 6, but in that stretch they faced Orlando, Dallas, and San Antonio. All of those teams are better than Houston so losses aren’t that big a concern. They’re currently 4 games out of the 8th spot in the playoffs and unless they make a big push after the all-star break, this team may find itself out of the post-season.

One difference of late, though, is that the Rockets have been starting Kyle Lowryat PG rather than Aaron Brooks. For a while that was injury related as Brooks missed many games with a badly sprained ankle. However, upon his return, he’s been relegated to reserve status as the team has preferred Kyle Lowry’s defense and ability to attack off the dribble to Brooks’ long range bombing and lack of D. With the Rocketson the bottom quarter of the league in defensive efficiency, I can understand why.

Rockets Blogs: A few quality spots to get Rockets news and analysis. Red94 is one such site. As is The Dream Shake.

Keys to game: With Bynum out, the Lakers are going back to their LO/Gasol frontline and that means a bit of a different approach on offense. We’re likely a shift from Kobe to Lamar as intitiator in the Lakers’ two guard front of the Triangle. Kobe will probably play much more on the wing andat the weak side elbow with Lamar making the initial pass into the corner or the hub of the Triangle to get the Lakers’ actions going.

This means that the Lakers’ attack will change some as rather than Kobe doing a lot of his work off the dribble, he’ll be off the ball more. Hopefully this creates better ball and player movement for the team and allows others to “activate” themselves in the Lakers’ sets. This also means that Pau will move off the wing and elbow and more into the low post for longer stretches this game. Going up against Chuck Hayes is never a picnic for Pau as Hayes’ low center of gravity and quick feet allows him to push Gasol out further than he’d like on his catches and makes backing down to earn position harder. However, if the Lakers can get Pau to make his catch on the move and coming to the ball, I think tonight can be a night where Pau gets good shots inside using his jump hook (a shot that has been too absent from his arsenal in the past several weeks).

Defensively, the Lakers must be disciplined and understand that they’re in store for a lot of cuts, screens, and misdirection tonight. Rick Adelman’s preference for the Princeton offense means a lot of high post entries to big men with wings like Martin, Battier, and Budinger screening and cutting off those picks to either fade to the corner for open shots or cut hard back door for layups. Every Laker must be aware of what’s going on and communication on D will be crucial to the team’s success in defending these actions.

From an individual standpoint, the Rockets O tries to feature the efficient Kevin Martin on the wing and the crafty Luis Scola on the block. Controlling Martin is always tricky because he moves well off the ball to free himself up for his jumper but also uses the threat of that J to drive the ball hard into contact andearn trips to the foul line. As evidence of this he’s on track to becoming a player that can lead the league in both 3’s and FT’s made which is quite the feat.  So the Lakers must effectively trail him off screens to deny his jumper (you know, the opposite of how they treated Ray Allen) and with the big man supporting that action by stepping up early to deny penetration while giving the wing defender a chance to recover. As for Scola, he’s a very good post scorer but please don’t let him go to his right hand. Every fake, pivot, spin, and step through is designed for him to get back to his right hand for a jump hook or scoop shot. Force him to turn over his right shoulder, sit on his right hand, and you’ve completed 75% of the job.

This isn’t panic time but tonight is a game the Lakers need to win. Even though Phil was in a joking mood after yesterday’s practice, he mentioned that the Lakersneed to do a better job of protecting their home court while also beating the teams that aren’t currently in the playoff mix. Tonight’s opponent fits the bill on both counts. The Lakers surely don’t want to go into Thursday’s game vs. the Spurs on a 3 game skid. Let’s get this win.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start on Fox Sports West. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.