Not long ago, the Brooklyn Nets swung for the championship fences by acquiring former All-Stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce via the trade market to pair alongside center Brook Lopez. In the process, the team mortgaged their future by sending out their crop of draft picks in those deals in order to compete at the highest level immediately.
But as we near the conclusion of the 2015-16 campaign, Garnett, Johnson, Pierce and Williams are now playing in different zip codes while Brooklyn has a long road of rebuilding ahead.
However, there is a bright spot for the Nets in a season filled with inconsistency and plenty of losses.
In 73 contests, Lopez is averaging 20.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and two assists on 51 percent shooting from the field. In fact, if the Nets’ front office didn’t choose to shut down Lopez for the remainder of the season, the veteran would have reached the 75-game mark for the first time since 2011.
With Brooklyn lacking assets via the draft, Lopez shoots to the top of the list in terms of value the team could use to aid in their rebuilding efforts. However, newly crowned general manager Sean Marks believes Lopez is one of the team’s building blocks for the long-term.
“He has talked to me, and we both definitely want to be here and see things happen here and help the team grow going forward,’’ Lopez said about Marks, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post.
Lopez has an extended injury history with two foot surgeries and an ankle procedure taking place over the past four campaigns. With the Nets having little to play for over the last week of the season, Marks decided it was best to protect the franchise’s most talented player.
“That day, I think two people had gotten injured playing in meaningless games, you know, finishing up the season. So he just wanted to take sort of precautionary angle going forward,’’ Lopez said of Mark’s decision.
“He said he wanted to sit down, get lunch, dinner, something like that, and talk about what I see going forward, what his plans are, I guess prepping already.”
Lopez inked a three-year, $63 million deal last summer when the Nets were believed to still be shaping up to be a fringe playoff team. The deal locks Lopez up through the end of the 2018 campaign; he and frontcourt mate Thaddeus Young are the only players currently on the team with guaranteed deals through that time.
This season has been tough to absorb mentally for the veteran. Head coach Lionel Hollins was fired early on and general manager Billy King, architect of the aforementioned swing-for-the-fences strategy, was reassigned within the organization.
“I wish it was more successful as a team, obviously,” Lopez said. “It takes time obviously to figure things out, but I think we could’ve figured things out quicker. “[But] our young guys learned a lot this season, and we found a lot of tools we could use going forward, definitely.”
The Nets (21-56) own the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference and are limping down the stretch as losers of five straight and eight of their past 10.
The tailspin for the rest of the season will undoubtedly continue without Lopez and Young in the rotation. However, the presence of a healthy Lopez, a former All-Star, should give the rebuilding process for Marks a better starting point than some teams that have found themselves in a similar position without a star.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.