EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After the season drew to a close Friday night at Barclays Center, one Brooklyn Nets assistant coach implored Brook Lopez at his locker to stick around beyond this season.
You have another level to go to, he said. We can make you great.
Lopez, who can opt out of his contract and become a free agent, responded with passive, non-committal affirmation: Uh-huh, yup, definitely, every few seconds, until the conversation was over.
The next day, nothing had changed. Lopez said he still hadn’t thought about his future, with the Nets or anywhere else.
“I still haven’t met with (GM) Billy (King) and (coach) Lionel (Hollins) yet, so we’ll see how that goes,” Lopez said. “I’m sure it’s not going to be anything crazy, but, like I said, I haven’t thought about any of that stuff yet.”
Both he & the team know the stakes. Lopez has a player option for next season that he can exercise before June 30. If he opts in, he could potentially cash in on a 2016 free agency bonanza, when the salary cap is expected to jump around $20 million. But he also runs the risk of further injury, particularly to his right foot, which has undergone multiple surgeries.
If he opts out, he can secure a four or five-year deal this offseason, but will stand to make less money long-term. Lopez confirmed that those were the factors, along with the possible continuity in having the same coach for two consecutive seasons, something he hasn’t had in Brooklyn.
“Right? That’s very impressive,” Lopez cracked. “(But) we thought that last year, too. So we’ll see.”
His joke about the team’s uncertainty had a ring of truth to it. The Nets have won fewer games every year in Brooklyn, and publicly put its three stars on the trade block as they slumped to a 38-44 finish.
Deron Williams, one of those players on the block, did not speak with the media Saturday morning.
But Joe Johnson did, and he pulled no punches about the uncertainty.
“I have no idea (what’ll happen),” Joe Johnson said. “Something’s going to happen. I don’t know what. I don’t see us coming back as the same team. This is my third year here. I could see if we were getting better each year, but it’s kind of been the opposite. So to not even be a .500 ball club in the East, it’s disheartening and–
“I don’t know. I think everyone in that locker room is unsure of the future here. So we’ll see what happens going into the summer.”
When asked if that uncertainty included himself, Johnson said yes. “I don’t think anybody is (off the market),” he added. “We’ll see.”
Lopez’s decision could be the falling domino that kicks off the offseason. Thaddeus Young is one player watching closely: the two developed a chemistry in the last two months of the season, and Young was impressed with Lopez, who he called “one of the better centers in the league, scoring, rebounding, altering shots, blocking shots,” and said the team expects both of them back.
“I definitely want to see what the big fella’s gonna do,” Young added. “But we’ve already been told that they expect us back next year, and they want us back next year, no matter if we pick up our options or opt out.”