Brook Lopez has the most important decision of his career coming up. And if you believe him, he’s barely thought about it.
“(My agent and I) haven’t really honestly had a lot of sit-down discussions and talked about it,” Lopez told Joe Benigno & Evan Roberts on WFAN radio Wednesday.
The “it” in that sentence is his option. Lopez has a player option for next year; if he opts in with the Brooklyn Nets, he’ll earn $16.8 million next season, and become an unrestricted free agent in 2016. If he opts out, he’ll have the chance to re-negotiate his contract, with the Nets or elsewhere, and secure long-term security with a multi-year deal.
“(My agent has) reminded me every now and then that that is coming up, the option and there’s opportunities there, but that’s not something I’m focusing on now,” Lopez said.
It’s a conundrum, and a risk. If he plays the rest of this season and stays healthy, he could choose to opt out and immediately secure a long-term deal to ensure his financial security. If he opts out, he’ll then become a free agent in the 2016 class, when the salary cap is set to spike to around $90 million. This would give Lopez the chance to secure a much bigger salary going forward, but it also comes with the risk that he could suffer a serious injury, ruining his financial prospects. One bad fall for a seven-footer with a screw in his foot could end his career.
The question with Lopez has never been talent. He’s been one of the league’s best interior scorers and an underrated rim protector when he’s on the floor. The problem is that he’s struggled to stay on the floor at all, with multiple foot surgeries and ankle problems in the past four years. After playing every game in his first three seasons, Lopez missed 134 of a possible 230 games in his next three seasons. Now in his seventh year, Lopez has played in 59 games, missing time early in the season for a “mild midfoot sprain” and 10 games in December with back issues.
Lopez has never had to make a difficult financial decision about his NBA future. He was locked into a rookie contract when the Nets drafted him in 2008, and the team offered him a maximum four-year deal worth close to $62 million when he hit restricted free agency in 2012.
Lopez has improved after a slow start to the season, and has been the Nets’ best player since the All-Star break. He’s averaged 17.8 points and 8.9 rebounds in 29.3 minutes per game since the 10-day layoff, shooting an even 50 percent from the field.[note]These stats were before Lopez dropped maybe his best post-break game of all, a 34-10-3 night on 16-26 shooting against the Hornets.[/note] He’s the only Nets player[note]The little-used Darius Morris and injured Sergey Karasev excluded, for obvious reasons[/note] with a positive plus-minus in that time. He’s put up multiple games of 30-plus points, including a 32-point, 18-rebound, 5-block performance in the team’s triple-overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks, opening the third overtime with an emphatic slam dunk over Ersan Ilyasova.
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His improved play has also coincided with the passing of the trade deadline. Lopez has stated numerous times on the record that he’s comfortable and happy in Brooklyn, and says he doesn’t pay attention to the trade rumors, but knows that he’s been “on the block” almost since his first day in Brooklyn. “I think (being on the block) is motivation in a way,” Lopez said. “I like going on the court and showing people what kind of player I can be and the type of player I think I am.”
He added his body has felt much better since the beginning of the season.
“(The injuries) may have slightly been in my mind earlier in the season, but the one thing I’ve really been thankful about in this season for me personally is just that as I’ve gone through the season it’s been really up and down for me personally,” Lopez said. “I felt complete confidence in my body, in my foot, and especially these last six to eight games, I’ve felt amazingly loose, as good as I’ve felt since coming into the league, just movement-wise, and being ready to play.”
At the end of the segment, Benigno joked that Lopez could join his New York Knicks in the offseason. Lopez laughed.
WFAN, The Joe & Evan Show — Brook Lopez (Audio)