With a record of 17-24, the season for the Nets doesn’t look promising. The 2014/15 season is the last year for the team to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy in order to fulfill owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s promise of delivering a championship within five years of buying the franchise. The Nets have made numerous moves to put a contending team on the floor that mortgaged the future, including the 2011 trade for Deron Williams and the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Paul Pierce. As a result of those deals, the 2019 draft will be the next time Brooklyn controls its own first-round pick. Prokhorov was rumored to be looking to sell the team in light of the Clippers’ record-setting $2 billion dollar price tag and the Nets have made their high-priced stars available with the intention of trimming expenses to make the franchise more financially attractive.
With Deron Williams’ latest injury and Joe Johnson’s massive contract, which has two years and almost $48.1MM remaining, including this season, Brook Lopez seems the most likely of the Nets’ stars to be traded. Lopez will make in excess of $15.7MM this year and has a player option worth more than $16.7MM for the 2015/16 season. Uncertainty surrounding his decision to pick up his option will be a potential speedbump for teams looking to acquire the seventh-year veteran, and his injury history might scare some front offices away as well.
However, the market for young centers who can defend the rim is particularly strong and based on the two first round picks that the Nuggets received for parting with Timofey Mozgov, the Nets brass should be salivating at the chance to move Lopez in this environment. Lopez ranked second in the league last season in points saved per 36 minutes, a metric developed by Seth Partnow to identify rim protection. Mozgov ranked 11th last season and his production has slipped all the way to 33rd this year while Lopez has sustained his success on defense this season, ranking fourth best in the league.
That being said, what Brooklyn can net by trading Lopez is only what another team is willing to offer for his services. Although Lopez is widely perceived as the better player, the Nets might need to temper their expectations when comparing the potential return they can reasonably get for him to the bounty that the Nuggets received for their big man. Mozgov only makes about one-third ($4.65MM this season) of Lopez’s salary and the Nets will be hard-pressed to find a team as desperate for a rim protector as the Cavs were.
The Nets shouldn’t be desperate in their attempts to find a trade partner. The team can look across town at the Knicks, as their summer trade of Tyson Chandler provides a cautionary tale. New York reportedly badly wanted to obtain picks in the 2014 draft, and they settled for the best deal at that point. The Knicks traded Chandler, along with Raymond Felton, to the Mavs for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and two second-round picks. Dalembert and Ellington have since been waived and the team is reportedly shopping Calderon, who was the only player on Knicks’ side of the deal who was projected to be a starter for a contending team. Still, it’s unknown what the Knicks could have obtained if they were a bit more patient. Chandler, like Lopez, is a rim protector with an injury history, but Lopez is six years younger than the former Defensive Player of the Year. The value of the haul that the Nets would receive for Lopez would likely fall between what the Knicks acquired for Chandler and what the Nuggets received for Mozgov.
Again, the most important ingredient in a trade is finding a suitor. Phoenix would have been a good destination for Lopez based on its salary cap situation and need for an interior presence but the Suns satisfied their need with their trade for Brandan Wright last week. This week, the Thunder were discussing a trade that would have sent Lopez to Oklahoma City in exchange for Kendrick Perkins, as well as a three-team scenario that involved Lance Stephenson going from the Hornets to the Nets. Talks between the teams’ executives have stalled because the Nets have major concerns about taking back Stephenson and don’t want to make a salary-shedding deal that would feature Perkins as the main piece going to Brooklyn. Lopez himself was rumored to be upset about the potential trade.
The Celtics were reportedly interested in acquiring Lopez as part of a Rajon Rondo deal, but it’s unclear whether they remain interested after trading the point guard last month. Lopez has just as much potential if not more than any player on Boston’s roster, but his large contract would take away some of the team’s flexibility, something president of basketball operations Danny Ainge might be hesitant to do at this time. Any deal would most likely hinge on getting Lopez to at least verbally commit past the 2014/15 season, and it’s uncertain whether the Stanford product is interested in joining a team that is not looking to contend right away.
Another potential suitor that will at least be interested in contending next season is the Lakers. Los Angeles may be struggling this season, but all signs point away from any sort of rebuild. The team reportedly dangled a first-round pick last month in an attempt to acquire Rondo and although that pick (originally from Houston) is projected to be a late first-rounder, the Nets would most likely be interested in it, though that’s just my speculation. The Lakers have a pair of point guards with expiring contracts (Steve Nash with a more than $9.7MM cap hit and Jeremy Lin with a more than $8.4MM cap hit) that would allow the Nets to definitively lower their team salary next season.The Lakers also have an intriguing big man in Jordan Hill, but he essentially has a de facto no trade clause in his contract because the deal he signed is technically a one-year pact. If Hill were to agree to be traded to Brooklyn, the Nets would bring back a productive center and possibly still be in contention for a lower playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
Lopez is a good scorer, averaging 14.8 points per game this season, and he provides elite rim protection as well. The center boasts a player efficiency rating of 19.23, which is above league average. Seven-footers with these skills are hard to come by and the current market for centers makes having one very favorable. The Nets shouldn’t have an issue finding a trade for Lopez; it’s just a matter of finding the right team with the combinations of assets to make it beneficial for Brooklyn to part with the seventh-year big man.
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