Denver Nuggets v Brooklyn Nets

With Brooklyn winning going small, could they look to move Brook Lopez?

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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.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: