Brook Lopez: A Career-Defining Year Approaches


Dec 20, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers defeated the Nets 121-120 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no denying that the last couple of years haven’t gone as planned for Mikhail Prokhorov and the Brooklyn Nets. Prokhorov is a go big or go home kind of guy, and unfortunately for he and the Nets, they’ve had to do the “go home” part far earlier than anticipated in each of the last few seasons.

Combined the high expectations that Prokhorov has set, with a New York fan base where everyone has an opinion, and naturally you’re going to get a whole lot of finger pointing.

“Deron Williams just isn’t the same anymore!”

“Too much iso for Joe Johnson!”

“We need to get that guy wearing Kevin Garnett’s jersey off the court!”

While some or all of these points may have some merit to them, there’s one very large detail people love to leave out: the plan all along was for this teams offense and defense to revolve around Brook Lopez, and he hasn’t been on the court.

If this were two years ago, I’d tell all Nets fans to calm down, and to wait and see what the team looks like with Lopez playing a full season at center. The problem is, on a team that is looking to compete right now, Lopez hasn’t been healthy for 2 of the last 3 years.

Lopez has transformed from a seemingly Cal Ripken-esque workhorse in his first few seasons, to a player who is now a huge injury concern for the Nets. As they try to figure out what direction they’re moving in, he and the Nets simply cannot afford another injury plagued year.

2014-15 is undoubtedly the most important year of his career to date.

From the Nets perspective as an organization, this is a vital year to feel out what direction they are heading in the next few seasons. That decision has everything to do with Brook Lopez.

Lopez is signed for this and next season with the Nets.

It isn’t inconceivable that Lopez comes in this year, stays healthy, and changes the whole complexion of the Nets team. If he’s right, he can play well alongside the young and energetic Mason Plumlee. He can also help Garnett bounce back by taking some of the pressure off of him defensively.

The last time we saw Lopez healthy, he was playing some of the best defense of his career. It’s entirely possible that, if he stays on the court, he could make the Nets one of the better defensive teams in the league.

On the opposite end, the whole offense changes when he’s on the court. He’s the most talented scorer at his position, having led all centers in points per game in 2012-13, and completely alters the way an offense is run when he’s on the court.

Last year, the Nets were too perimeter-oriented. They weren’t efficient enough to compete with the top dogs in the East as displayed in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat.

With Lopez on the floor, Joe Johnson would be working less for his shots. Mirza Teletovic, who shot 39.0 percent from three-point range in 2013-14, would get more open looks.

Lopez’s presence could also help Williams return to being one of the most productive point guards in the league. Then Brooklyn would have an offense that looks like the smooth-sailing juggernaut Prokhorov and the organization envisioned.

But what if none of this happens?

What if Lopez gets back, plays six or seven games and then encounters another foot injury? Lopez has a track record which requires the Nets to prepare for the worst-case scenario: a season-ending injury.

It’s happened twice in his six-year career.

If it happens again, everything changes.

As Lopez approaches the last 2 guaranteed years on his contract, he could be dealt by the Nets to pick up some assets. If he can’t stay on the court, he’d become more of a liability than an asset.

He’s become somewhat expendable to the Nets because of the emergence of Plumlee. In a hypothetical situation where Lopez isn’t healthy—something that happened as recently as 2013-14—the Nets would struggle to contend in a revamped Eastern Conference.

Therefore, the Nets’ win-now mentality rests entirely on Lopez’s fragile foot.