NBA Saturday: Should the Nets Trade Brook Lopez?

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Brook Lopez is now in his ninth NBA season and is the most tenured played on the Brooklyn Nets. In fact, Lopez is the only player on the roster that was with the franchise when it was still the New Jersey Nets. Lopez has been a fixture for this team, consistently producing throughout the team’s ups and downs (though he has struggled with injuries throughout his NBA career).

The Nets currently have the worst record in the NBA (9-45) and have lost 12 games in a row and 28 of their last 30. Nets general manager Sean Marks has been tasked with rebuilding a team that has recklessly traded away future assets over the last few seasons in pursuit of a championship. With few assets to work with, Marks has to be creative and opportunistic in assembling his team. Last offseason, Marks signed Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson to inflated restricted free agent offer sheets in the hope that these young guards would improve to the point where their production would coincide with their respective salaries. The Portland Trail Blazers and Miami HEAT ultimately matched the Nets’ offer sheets and retained their respective free agents, but it was a tactic worth pursuing considering that Marks has limited options in acquiring young talent.

That’s where Lopez could potentially help the Nets. Lopez’s name comes up each season around the trade deadline. This makes sense considering that Lopez is a gifted offensive player, has the size of a throwback center and isn’t a slouch defensively. Lopez has even added three-point range to his game this season, which makes him even more enticing as a trade target. For his part, Lopez is used to hearing his name come up in trade rumors and knows how to manage it.

“I’ve talked to [my agent]. But it’s something I’m used to by now. It wouldn’t be comfortable without it,’’ said Lopez on Tuesday night. “I haven’t heard anything. I’m all right. If it were pressing or something was happening, I’d be aware.

“They’re going to make their decision, but I would hope that I’d be informed, and I have the confidence they would inform me if they were thinking [of doing] something or something was going down.”

This season, Lopez is averaging 20.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 33.6 percent from three-point range. In the Nets’ recent loss to the Miami HEAT (who is riding a league-leading 13-game win streak), Lopez overmatched Hassan Whiteside, producing 30 points and eight rebounds. He also got the highlight of the night by viciously rejecting Rodney McGruder’s dunk attempt.

Lopez is currently under contract through next season. This season, he is earning roughly $21.1 million and will earn roughly $22.6 million next season. Unlike a player like Blake Griffin, who last year was rumored to be available in trade discussions since he can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, Lopez has another year under contract. This makes him a bit more valuable in trade discussions since teams won’t balk at the idea of trading significant assets for what could amount to a two-to-three month rental.

The Nets value Lopez a great deal and would only be willing to move him for a significant return. Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler recently reported that the Nets have been open to trade discussions all year, but are seeking a lottery level pick this year and a first-round pick next year. Kyler further stated that the Nets are not concerned about moving Lopez this season since they could restart discussions around the upcoming draft. The belief is that Lopez is playing the best basketball of his career and that his value will climb the more he can display his abilities and durability.

The Nets’ front office understands its current situation and is right to hold out for a strong offer for Lopez. With the Boston Celtics owning swap rights to Brooklyn’s 2017 first-round pick, their 2018 first-round pick and Brooklyn owing second-round picks to the Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers and Memphis Grizzlies, it is imperative that the Nets receive ample future assets in return for any deal involving Lopez. However, if the Nets become unreasonably stubborn, they’ll run the risk that Lopez’s value will decline as he gets closer and closer to unrestricted free agency.

Lopez does have some limitations that could also drag down his value. In a league that increasingly values athletic rim protectors that double as pick-and-roll threats, such as DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside, there is a risk that Lopez no longer represents the type of center that teams are primarily targeting. Lopez is not an elite athlete, but he is still mobile enough to be an effective defender, as we saw in the clip above. However, at age 28 and with multiple injuries on his record, there is reason to be wary of his durability and concern for how he will age (especially considering he will be in line for a significant contract when his contract expires after next season). Whether Lopez is ultimately traded or not, he has been a fixture for Brooklyn and has handled his situation as a true professional.

“You never know what’s going to happen, nothing’s for certain,’’ Lopez said. “I’ve consistently said I want to see nothing but good things here and I’d love to be a part of that. It’s the one team I’ve played for, the one team I’ve known. I want to see great things happen here and I’d love to be a part of that foundation and that growth. … That said, obviously I only can control what I can control: There are other variables out there.”

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