Around Christmas, it looked like we could leave the Brooklyn Nets for dead. By the time they lost to San Antonio on New Year’s Eve, the Nets were 10-21 and without Brook Lopez, their star center, for the rest of the season due to another foot surgery.
That injury forced Brooklyn to go small — Kevin Garnett gets key minutes at the center spot — and to focus the offense through Paul Pierce (as well as Deron Williams). Combine that with good bench play from Andrei Kirilenko and Mirza Teletovic off the bench and suddenly coach Kidd has some untraditional lineups that work.
The result is a Nets team that is 11-4 in 2014 and is the seven seed in the East. Brooklyn found their identity with this (usually) smaller, more defensively aggressive lineup, something Jason Kidd confirmed to Zach Lowe of Grantland.
But then Lowe asks an interesting question — if the answer in Brooklyn is going small, and if they need to win now, should they shop Lopez around?
Trading Lopez could theoretically work in both directions, though it would be painful for an organization that has nurtured his tremendous growth. Such a deal could leave Brooklyn with zero reliable bigs next season, since Kevin Garnett may retire and Andray Blatche has likely played his way into a better contract. Lopez is also dealing with his second major foot injury, which hurts his trade value. But the Nets have found an identity without him, and he’s a talented player with just two years left after this one2 on a fair contract….
It might not work for Charlotte, which badly wants a playoff berth this season, but an injured Lopez could also work as a gamble for a tanking team happy to surrender something for a guy who won’t play this season.
Nets general manager Billy King of course denies that they are calling around offering Lopez up. However, if you called them with the right deal…
“We are not shopping Brook Lopez,” King told Grantland last week. “Our goal is to get Brook as healthy as possible. But if deals present themselves, we’ve got to look at them. If we can get draft picks back at some point, that would help.”
Brooklyn sent three first round picks to the Celtics to get Garnett and Pierce, and the only two first round picks they have in the next five years either Atlanta or Boston can swap with and take the higher slot. Brooklyn in spending nearly $190 million in salary and tax this season and the way you lower that bill — and once the repeater tax kicks in even Mikhail Prokorhov will want to lower that bill — is with good players on rookie contracts.
Brooklyn is winning right now with this more nimble lineups and Garnett quarterbacking the defense. They are awkward and a bit untraditional, but it works for them.
They could be the third best team in the East and a tough out. That said they remain light years behind the Heat and the Pacers this season, and most likely next season without a shakeup. If the Nets are going to go all in to win now, they need to alter the roster even more to fit this new identity.
Lopez is a questionable fit with this new identity. Which means at the trade deadline and this summer they need to at least consider the move.