Brook Lopez’s tenure with the Brooklyn Nets is over. He will now embark on a new chapter of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers after being traded with a first-round pick for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. While this trade doesn’t completely alter the fates of either of these franchises, it is important to understand the evolution of Lopez’s Nets tenure. This is often the piece of information lost when talking about player movement in sports. It’s important to discuss this side of sports to really understand the humanistic element.
Picture taken from Zimbio.com.
The New Jersey Nets, in 2008, would select center Brook Lopez out of Stanford with the 10th overall pick in the draft. Brook Lopez would go on to play with some of the worst teams ever assembled, including a team that would go on to only win 11 games in 2009. In the 2010-2011 season, the Nets would go on to acquire star point guard Deron Williams to pair with a big man. The only problem: Lopez wasn’t the big man they envisioned.
Picture taken from brooklyneaglesports.com.
The man standing behind him, the imposing Dwight Howard, was the center of the New Jersey Nets dreams. They envisioned a team in which Williams and Howard would play the pick-and-roll each night on the heels of moving to Barclays Center in 2012. Howard was in the last year of his contract and had publicly made it known he had no desire to return to the Orlando Magic after. In early December of 2011, the Nets would offer Brook Lopez and two-first round picks to try and acquire Howard. This was complicated, though, as Lopez had just undergone foot surgery and his value was at its lowest. No deal….yet.
Zoom up to 24 hours before the NBA Trade Deadline in February. One day prior, Dwight was still not convinced on playing with the Magic long-term. The Orlando Magic were getting desperate. They needed to trade him now. The Nets were still sitting and waiting. The Magic made it clear they were going to trade him. Brook Lopez’s Nets tenure was over. He was going to play for the Orlando Magic. That didn’t happen. Dwight Howard would have a change of heart and would forego his player option and would re-up with the Orlando Magic hours before the trade deadline. It appeared the dream for the Nets was over. It wasn’t completely.
Now Free Agency. The Brooklyn Nets would be hard pressed to convince Deron Williams to stay in a Nets uniform. They would re-sign Gerald Wallace and trade Joe Johnson to make it happen. The Nets would get off to a big start and then something happened. Howard would request a trade again. Problem was that the Magic had fired GM Otis Smith who was willing to trade Howard in favor of Rob Hennigan who had no desire to just give him away. The Nets would offer up the RFA (restricted free-agent rights) to Brook Lopez along with four first-round picks for Howard. Negotiations would get pretty far along while Lopez would sit in limbo. It would even go as far as be agreed to in principle. Brook Lopez was not going to play for the Nets anymore. The Nets were going to assemble a super-team to try and match the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.
The Magic would change their mind. They decided they needed to be able to clear extra money from their payroll and demanded the Nets either take on some bad contracts or find a third team to do so. The Nets would try to find another team vigorously for two days before realizing it was impossible. The deal would be dead. Brook Lopez would re-up with the Brooklyn Nets on a new four-year max contract. Howard would be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in August of 2012. The Dwight Howard saga was over. Ironically enough, Brook Lopez got traded on the same day five years later, just not for each other.
Picture taken from zimbio.com
Brook Lopez’s return to Brooklyn after his foot surgery was masterful. He showed significant improvement on both the offensive and defensive side in his first season back averaging 19.4 PPG and 2.1 BLK. He would enjoy a run to the playoffs with the Nets in their first year in the Barclays Center as well as an All-Star Game appearance. However, they would disappoint in the playoffs and be eliminated in the first round. The Brooklyn Nets front office regime was not pleased and would be aggressive in the off-season.
Picture taken from bleacherreport.com.
Draft Night 2013. The biggest day in Brooklyn Nets history. Billy King, the Nets GM at the time, would pull off the craziest trade we have ever seen. He went for two of the most prolific, however aging, stars in NBA history in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. He made a crazy trade to get the deal done. He gave up Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, Marshon Brooks, and their 2014, 2016, and 2018 1st round drafts picks as well as the right to swap picks in 2015 and 2017 and agreed to take back Kevin White and Jason Terry’s albatross of a contract in return. Nobody cared about giving up the picks at the time, however, as everyone was just looking at the roster they could assemble. They were about to assemble the only team that appeared to have a chance to challenge the Miami Heat at the time.
Things didn’t go as planned. The Nets would struggle right away as the Lopez/Garnett frontcourt was just not working. This problem worked itself out as Lopez would need another foot surgery. The Nets started winning once that happened and Garnett became the team’s center. The team blamed their earlier season struggles on Lopez. They did this as far to the point Jason Kidd tried to trade him at the NBA Trade Deadline in 2014 for Ersan Ilyasova. The Milwaukie Bucks were accepting of the deal, however the Brooklyn Nets GM was not and so the deal never happened. Ironically, Jason Kidd would end up coaching the Milwaukie Bucks the following season after trying to gain front-office power in Brooklyn.
The Nets would go on to make the playoffs without Lopez and would even win a seven-game series with the Toronto Raptors. They would lose to the Miami Heat in five games in the second round though and the experiment would officially be deemed a failure. Paul Pierce would leave as a free-agent in the off-season and the Nets would be stuck with a declining Kevin Garnett. Nonetheless, the Brooklyn Nets, on paper, were still a good team heading into the 2014-2015 season with a healthy Brook Lopez returning.
Picture taken from Fansided.com.
Things didn’t go as hoped. Brooklyn was about ten games under .500 heading into the NBA Trade Deadline in 2015. Billy King and the Nets front office decided it might be time to head in a new direction, to start a rebuild project. Brook Lopez was the likely guy to go as the Nets had a new young and emerging center in Mason Plumlee. The Brooklyn Nets agreed to a deal on deadline day with the Oklahoma City Thunder to send Brook Lopez to them in exchange for then 23 year old point guard Reggie Jackson.
This was a major change of direction. The plan was to sit Deron Williams and start Mason Plumlee which was going to turn the pick-and-roll and slow paced Nets into a fast paced run-and-gun team. It never happened.
The deal was labeled close for multiple hours until it fell apart. The Thunder would trade for center Enes Kanter from the Jazz as they changed their mind. Brook Lopez would stay. The only move the Nets would make would be to acquire Thaddeus Young from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Garnett. The Nets would go on a run after this, however, and make the playoffs. They would lose four games to two in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks.
It would be enough to prompt the Nets to re-sign him long-term, though, even under a new front office regime. On July 1st, Brook Lopez would sign a new 3 year/ $60 million contract. So after all of this, it appeared Lopez might finish out his career in Brooklyn. Not so fast.
Picture taken from galleryhip.com.
The Nets would go on to have two straight seasons in which they would not win more than 21 games and so, it essentially was a waste to keep and aging Brook Lopez on this team. He was a wasted talent in the eyes of the new regime that did not have a strong attachment to him. And so, that is how we got here today.
OPINION: While Lopez was a very flawed player at times, what he meant to this team was so much more than that. He cared about this team. He never wanted to leave. No matter how many times the Nets put him out on the trade block he still showed undying devotion to this organization. He even had the chance to leave this team during the decline in free-agency in 2015, and he said, “No, I want to finish my career in Brooklyn.” I know that this is a business at the end of the day, but this guy deserved better. And to even appease Nets fans, he got better every year once these rumors started. He went from one of the worst defensive centers in basketball to a force to be reckoned with down low.
Lopez did everything he could to stay here his whole career, but the Nets never wanted him here long-term. They constantly looked at him as the piece that could help someone else more than them. They always felt there was someone better. Nobody will ever replace the void of loyalty that Lopez now leaves a gaping whole in. Without draft picks, the Nets are heading into about a decades worth of losing seasons. Maybe its for the best. Lopez can go win with the Lakers or another team once his contract expires while the Nets get a young point guard in Russell. However, we need to remember how we got here to understand how much of an impact Lopez had on this franchise so much so that I would be willing to argue the Nets should eventually induct him into the teams Hall-of-Fame.