The sky is officially falling in Brooklyn.
Just a few hours after losing in double overtime at the buzzer to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Brooklyn Nets found out that during the game Brook Lopez broke his surgically repaired right foot again. This is the same foot he broke in 2011 and the same foot he needed surgery on this past offseason to have a screw replaced. The news couldn’t have came at worse time, with the Nets having lost two close games in a row and falling further and further into the abyss that is the bottom of the Eastern Conference. On the season, Lopez was averaging 20.7 points per game on 56 percent shooting along with 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest as well. The Nets, as of this writing, have gone 2-7 thus far this season without him in the lineup.
It’s been a hard tumble for Brook Lopez, a promising young center who made his first All-Star Game last season. Brook was an iron man throughout his first three seasons, playing in all 82 games in each year. After breaking his foot in 2011, it looked as though he was back to normal for all of last year, as he managed to play in 74 regular season games and compete at a high level in all seven playoff games as well. But historically, guys bigger than 7’0″ tall who have had this type of recurring foot trouble haven’t been able to sustain long, injury-free careers. Yao Ming is a guy that comes to mind. He missed just two games in his first three seasons as a pro before chronic foot problems plagued him throughout the remainder of his career. After his ninth season, Ming called it quits. Let’s hope Brook Lopez, a nice guy and a true Net, doesn’t suffer a similar fate.
So what now for the Brooklyn Nets, a capped out team with few assets that doesn’t have full control of their own first rounder until 2019? General manager Billy King could try to bring in reinforcements. The Houston Rockets had previously made disgruntled center Omer Asik available, but it’s hard to imagine the Nets having the necessary pieces to facilitate a deal for him. The Nets could blow it up, but how? Certainly Deron Williams has value, but other than that, who else does? King and Co. went all in this year, and with Brooklyn sitting at 9-17, good for 11th in the Eastern Conference, that gamble seems to have failed miserably.
The best course of action, well, maybe the only course of action for the Nets right now, is to stand pat and not panic until the trade deadline. Jason Kidd now must earn his stripes as a coach. Kevin Garnett has struggled at power forward all year; maybe sliding him over to center could rejuvenate him. Mirza Teletovic has come into his own with increased playing time. He could fit in as a short term starter at power forward for now. Brooklyn also has the versatile Andrei Kirilenko returning within the next few weeks. Andray Blatche has played well this year and rookie Mason Plumlee has shown flashes. Depth up front isn’t a huge problem for these Nets.
But none of those guys is Brook Lopez.
Certainly, the Nets will miss his offense. But defensively, Brook was really becoming a force this season. Opponents were shooting just 40.3 percent at the rim against Brooklyn with Lopez on the floor, the best mark in the league. No Nets big is even close to having that type of impact on the defensive end. Overcoming the loss of a presence with that type of game impact will take time, a luxury this Nets team simply doesn’t have right now. Yes, the East is bad, but this is a team that’s going to need to start winning games soon to stay in the post-season conversation.
Lopez, of course, is the last connection this franchise has to New Jersey. He survived 12-70. He played through trade rumors and empty arenas on bad teams with his head up, continuing to plug along night after night on one of the NBA’s truly inept franchises. Now, that last link, that final bond from New Jersey to Brooklyn, has been broken. Maybe this was the only way it could happen, considering the history of front office blunders, busts, poor play, and bad luck that marked this team’s tenure in the Garden State.