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NBA PM: Brook Lopez’s Rising Trade Value

The Nets are wisely waiting out the right offer for Brook Lopez… Rajon Rondo out and more.

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Brook Lopez’s Rising Trade Value

How many centers in the league are capable of giving you 35 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and three steals in a single game?

Very few, even if you want to include Miami HEAT breakout center Hassan Whiteside, who seems liable to do something like that on any given night all of a sudden.

And, those who can don’t come cheap in terms of annual salary or assets required to acquire them in a trade, in the rare case that they are actually available at all.

That’s why the Brooklyn Nets are taking their time in dealing Brook Lopez, who put up that exact stat line in their most recent win against the Toronto Raptors. Lopez is averaging 15.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks on the season – a far cry from the monster numbers that he put up against the Raptors, but still good enough to make him one of the more productive centers in the league.

If it weren’t for his troublesome injury history, which forced him to miss all but five games in 2011-12 and 17 in 2013-14, there would probably be more of an argument made for him as one of the best centers in the game. From 2010-2014 he did average 19 points a game, but his inconsistent presence, underwhelming rebounding (he averaged seven a game during that same span) and defensive deficiencies have led to him being regarded as overrated more than anything.

Yet, the Nets actually find themselves right now in a position of leverage when it comes to dealing him. It’s been clear for over a month that the Nets are looking to cut costs, rebuild and shed some of the high-dollar contracts on their books, including Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Unlike with Johnson and Williams, whose contracts are among the most difficult to move in the league and the Nets would likely jump at the first acceptable offer for them, they’ve turned down multiple offers for Lopez.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were on the verge of having two deals completed for Lopez. The first was a three-team trade that included the Charlotte Hornets. When those talks went south, they tried working directly with the Nets, attempting to send them the expiring contract of Kendrick Perkins and 22-year-old Jeremy Lamb. In the end, though, the Nets declined.

Last week, the Denver Nuggets tried to pry him away, offering J.J. Hickson, JaVale McGee and one of the first round picks that they received from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Timofey Mozgov deal. However, the Nets rejected that offer as well.

Still, you shouldn’t expect to see Lopez on the Nets past the deadline. They are simply capitalizing on the fact that centers as offensively skilled as Lopez are hard to come by, and that he’s driving his value back up with the way he’s played this season. The season averages he’s posting are below his career marks, but he’s only playing 26.9 minutes a night. On a per-36 minute scale he’s averaging 20 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals – on par with what he produced when playing full starter minutes earlier in his career. The injury concerns are still very real and something teams trying to trade for him undoubtedly point out as the Nets ask for maximum value in return, but at 26 years of age Lopez would still be a quality acquisition, especially when you take his contract into account.

Lopez has a player option for $16.7 million for next season. He could become an unrestricted free agent this offseason if he desired and be eligible for a raise, but by no means is he certain to make that decision. There’s plenty of reason to justify declining the player option and exploring free agency next offseason instead. With another year of no injury setbacks and an increased salary cap thanks to the new TV deal coming next summer, Lopez could make significantly more next summer. Any team that trades for him would likely want a commitment through next season and this is a rare situation in which it may not be impossible to get. Typically, it just doesn’t make any sense for a player to put off free agency and the ability to secure up to a five-year commitment. In this case, though, the smart move is probably for Lopez to hold off, prove his health troubles are behind him and potentially go into free agency with an all-time high salary cap with his stock closer to the max, which it would be well short of this summer, although he’d still likely get paid very handsomely (anywhere in the $10-14 million per year range).

All it takes is two teams to drive a player’s price up and create a bidding war. In the Nuggets and Thunder, the Nets have two teams that would be willing to accept their phone calls on Lopez leading up to the final moments of the February 19 trade deadline. Not to mention, all the other teams that we don’t know about who could sneak in and top their offers. They’re certainly not the only two. Lopez is a low-risk, high-reward option who could either help a contender get over the hump or serve as a building block for a struggling team in need of a primary offensive option.

Also, in the end, the Nets could always hold onto him as well. That’s not a bad option at all for them either, which is why they’re going to wait until they know what the entire market is for him and only then accept the best offer if they decide to trade him.

Rondo Out Indefinitely: Days after the Houston Rockets determined that their star center Dwight Howard would be out for at least a month due to recurring knee pain, another Western Conference power suffered a serious loss. The Dallas Mavericks announced today that Rajon Rondo will be out indefinitely as he recovers from an orbital fracture to his left eye and a nasal fracture suffered on Saturday against the Orlando Magic.

With Rondo out, the Mavericks will likely rely heavily on veteran guard Devin Harris to hold down the point guard position, but also have Raymond Felton, Monta Ellis and J.J. Barea who can help out in spot duty as well.

They have an open roster spot that they could use to add some additional backcourt help if necessary; however, they’ve presumably been saving that for Jermaine O’Neal, who they’re hoping to tap as Tyson Chandler’s primary backup.

Blatche in Demand: According to Marc Stein and Mike Mazzeo of ESPN, NBA veteran Andray Blatche, who is set to become a free agent soon after completing his season in China, is being looked at by the Memphis Grizzlies and Brooklyn Nets. Blatche dominated in the CBA, putting up 31.1 points and 14.6 points a night.

The Nets’ roster is currently in a state of flux with them being very active in trade talks and the team itself being up for sale. Adding a proven forward like Blatche to the frontline could help make up for the potential departure of Brook Lopez, but it should be noted that they let him go last summer despite the fact that he was a contributing member of the regular rotation. Off the court concerns were the primary reason why, but if the time away from the league has helped Blatche mature, he’s definitely deserving of being in the NBA.

The Grizzlies let Tyrus Thomas go back to the D-League and replaced him with San Antonio Spurs recent cut JaMychal Green. He’s only on for a 10-day deal, though, and Blatche would be a really interesting fit on their team. Improving their offense is clearly a priority, as evidenced by the Jeff Green trade, and Blatche would give them a different dimension than their current set of backup big men. Whereas they are more defensive-oriented, Blatche provides a scoring repertoire they could really use against some of the higher-scoring teams they could end up facing in the Western Conference Playoffs.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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