Brook Lopez is one of the best offensive centers in the NBA, averaging 18 points per game for his career.
But ever since the 2011 preseason, Lopez has had lingering foot and ankle problems, playing in only 91 of 164 regular season games the past two seasons. He also missed last year’s entire playoff run.
As we look forward to next season and beyond, Brook Lopez’s health is a huge question mark for Brooklyn. There’s a frightening possibility that Lopez’s career could be cut short by ongoing, multiple injuries.
Which means the Nets would lose him for nothing.
This situation reminds me of Andrew Bogut’s time in Milwaukee. Bogut showed flashes of his No. 1 overall pick potential whenever he was healthy, even leading the Bucks to the playoffs in both the 2006 and 2010 seasons.
However, Milwaukee always grappled with whether or not to invest in Bogut long-term, or get value for him while they could. Ultimately, in 2012, they decided to trade Andrew Bogut to the Warriors in exchange for Monta Ellis.
For the Bucks, the deal made sense for two reasons. One, because they had faith in their super second-year shot-blocker, Larry Sanders, to replace Bogut. And two, in return for Bogut, Milwaukee received a top-10 scorer in Ellis, who helped them make the playoffs in 2013.
With Golden State, the swap worked because they desperately coveted a defensive big to help them make the playoffs. Plus, there was no need to keep Ellis with Stephen Curry emerging.
I think the 2014-15 Brooklyn Nets are in a similar situation as those 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks. Whether they’ll make the same difficult decision, I’m not sure. Nets management and ownership don’t see their team as a seller right now, meaning Lopez probably won’t go on the trading block just yet.
But, for speculation’s sake, let’s pretend he does.
After all, Brooklyn played well without Lopez last year. Not to mention, I bet the promising Mason Plumlee (like the 2011-12 Bucks’ Larry Sanders) would love to see more playing time.
I imagine, if Brook Lopez were to be put on the trading block, the Nets would attract interest from a team in the same situation as Golden State in 2012. In other words, a team who’s a center away from making a run at the postseason.
After considering team needs and playing around with ESPN Trade Machine, I came up with three interesting landing spots for Brook Lopez. Not only teams who could use a center, but teams who could send Brooklyn some Monta Ellis-type value in return.
Here they are (in order of most to least probable):
Why it works for Brooklyn: Danilo Gallinari could pick up right where Paul Pierce left off, starting alongside Mason Plumlee in a small-ball front-line. Gallinari has been a bit injury-prone, of course, but no more than Brook Lopez. That’s fair. Gallo averaged 16 points and five rebounds a few years ago, and he’s only 25 years old.
In addition, with Mirza Teletovic, Andrei Kirilenko, and Sergei Karasev already on the roster, it seems Nets owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, is stockpiling some nice Russian players (and almost Russian players…Teletovic is Bosnian). Timofey Mozgov fits right into that group. He averaged nine points, six rebounds, and a block in only 22 minutes per game in a crowded Denver frontcourt last season. Darrell Arthur was also part of that stacked big man group, averaging six points and three rebounds in merely 17 minutes. They could both provide much-needed size and youth to take the responsibility off old man Garnett’s shoulders.
Why it works for Denver: Ever since the departure of Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets have been incredibly deep, but lacking in the All-Star type talent that wins playoff games. However, with the addition of Brook Lopez, Denver would suddenly have two potential 18-20 point per game scorers, the other being speedy point guard Ty Lawson.
Think about a starting five with Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, and Lopez. That’s pretty dangerous. Furthermore, after this hypothetical three-for-one trade, their team wouldn’t be so cluttered anymore, which would help with players defining their roles (an underrated part of good team basketball). And the Nuggets’ frontcourt would still be formidable, seeing J.J. Hickson and JaVale McGee backing up Faried and Lopez.
Why it works for Brooklyn: Nikola Pekovic is just a step under Brook Lopez in terms of stats. The Nets would lose a few points and blocks per game, but still have a solid starting center replacement (and he’s an additional “almost” Russian player … Serbian).
Meanwhile, Alexey Shved is another one of those young, interesting Russian players that Prokhorov would love. He had somewhat of a sophomore slump last season, but is still a promising talent.
Why it works for Minnesota: Let’s assume the Wolves trade Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins. If that’s the case, they’ll have a dynamite backcourt over there in Minnesota with Ricky Rubio and Wiggins. You know what would go nice with that? An All-Star center in Brook Lopez; a guy who’s been the centerpiece of an offense, unlike Pekovic. Almost immediately, the Twolves would replenish the star power they lose by trading Love.
Also, with point guards J.J. Barea and rookie Zach LaVine in tow, the Wolves can afford to let go of Shved.
Brook Lopez to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade for Eric Bledsoe.
Why it works for Brooklyn: Eric Bledsoe is a stud. He averaged 18 points, six assists and five rebounds in a career year last season. The Suns don’t want to give him up, but they’re not close to a deal right now after Bledsoe rejected their four-year, $48 million offer. Bledsoe is looking for $15 million per year, which is precisely what Brook Lopez makes. That works out nicely.
Bledsoe would be just what the Nets need in their backcourt to make up for the decline of Deron Williams. He would also allow Jarrett Jack to move to the bench and provide some punch to a previously mediocre second unit. With Bledsoe and Plumlee on board, Brooklyn would suddenly have young and exciting franchise cornerstones to build around, despite losing size. Mirza Teletovic would probably start at power forward
Why it works for Phoenix: The Suns can’t afford to lose Bledsoe for nothing. So, a sign-and-trade could be their best option. At the same time, losing Bledsoe wouldn’t be the end of the world for last year’s NBA darlings.
Goran Dragic was the league’s Most Improved Player a season ago, and is an All-Star in the making. While Bledsoe was down with a knee injury, Dragic kept the Suns afloat with a 17-16 record, dropping 20 points on a nightly basis. Lopez and Dragic would be one of the best inside-out, one-two punches in the NBA. Moreover, P.J. Tucker emerged as a good two-way player, Gerald Green gave them nice offensive production, and they signed Isaiah Thomas this offseason, who will come off the bench but is solid enough to start. The problem last season was with Phoenix’s bigs.
Suns centers combined to average 10 points, 10 rebounds, and a single block per game last year. Brook Lopez would instantly double that scoring and block total by himself, and he would have the up-and-coming Miles Plumlee backing him up.
Of course, any team willing to give up valuable assets for Brook Lopez would have to be optimistic about his health and future.
For the Brooklyn Nets, however, their reason to trade him would be exactly the opposite.