Future is written all over Brooklyn Nets through Brook Lopez trade

D’Angelo Russell
(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Sean Marks and the Brooklyn Nets continue to show they’re committed to unearthing the franchise from the horrors of its early days in Brooklyn. This was on full display Tuesday night, when The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Nets were shipping Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick in this year’s draft to the Lakers, in exchange for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov.

In a rather crazy week of NBA trades and rumors, and the upcoming NBA Draft (Happy Draft Day!), the Nets drew a considerable amount of attention for dealing their nine-year franchise cornerstone. It was a move that’s been heavily anticipated for years now, even if that meant losing inarguably their most consistent producer, as well as their all-time leader in points and blocked shots.

The Nets have accumulated a mountain of praise ever since Marks took office last February, but following the trade, NBA pundits have complimented the Nets’ move and clear direction of their rebuild. On The Bill Simmons Podcast, the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor called it a “forward-thinking move” for the Nets. Various polls on Twitter also show that, for the most part, the Nets won the deal, and fans are satisfied with the return.

Some have questioned the legitimacy of including the 27th pick since the 2017 draft class is loaded with talent, and draft picks are like bread and butter to a Nets team that’s still recovering from the loss of many first-round picks due to the 2013 blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics. NetsDaily’s Anthony Puccio also reported that the trade could have been finalized days earlier, but the Nets revisited the deal after the Lakers pressed for the No. 27 pick. I wouldn’t get too caught up in this component of the deal, as there are still other possible means for the Nets to acquire prospects, and the return for the Nets outweighs the loss of one late first-round pick.

Draft day trades aren’t uncommon, and prior to Tuesday’s trade, Basketball Insider’s Michael Scotto reported that the Nets were considering packaging their two first-round picks to move up in the draft. That’s no longer an option for them, but there’s no telling what Marks has up his sleeve. Remember: last year, the Nets traded for Isaiah Whitehead the day after the draft, and Caris LeVert was acquired in the first week of July. With few indispensable candidates on the roster, there’s no telling who might be packaged in a deal this offseason.

If you’re a Nets fan reading this, after you get past the heartburn of losing the beloved Brook Lopez, I urge you to step outside, look up to the clouds and read what’s spelled out for the Nets. Future is written all over them.

D’Angelo Russell has yet to reach his full potential

D’Angelo Russell was clearly the main target of the trade, as the Nets acquired a budding, young guard who’s only two years removed from being a No. 2 pick. In a way, the Nets traded an expiring contract (Lopez) and late first-round pick for a former lottery pick and somewhat of a replacement center (more on that later). Not too shabby for a team that recently lost out on the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, due to the 2013 trade that we all wish could be left in the past.

There are concerns over Russell’s character and attitude, particularly after his feud with Lakers wing Nick Young last year, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that he’s still a growing talent who could become an All-Star one day. A change of scenery to escape the drama and limelight would do him some good, and perhaps the no-pressure, no-expectations environment at Brooklyn, under the tutelage of head coach Kenny Atkinson, would help him discover his full potential.

Russell embodies just what the Nets need at this stage of their rebuild: a young, developing player who has time to turn into a vital core piece. There are already a plethora of players who fit this bill on the Nets’ roster, such as Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. I wouldn’t consider a lineup of Russell, LeVert, Dinwiddie and Hollis-Jefferson “four-fifths of the way to a super-bootleg version of the Lineup of Death,” as the Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks puts it, but there is reason to be optimistic about what’s to come for Brooklyn.

A Jeremy Lin-D’Angelo Russell Backcourt

As is always the discussion this offseason when the Nets are reportedly interested in a point guard (in this case, they actually acquired one), there’s uncertainty over whether the point guard in question will be able to coexist with starter Jeremy Lin. It’s likely Brooklyn’s starting lineup will consist of Lin and Russell running the backcourt with LeVert staying at the 3, though adjustments will need to be made to the Nets’ original intended plans of slotting LeVert down to the 2.

Lin told the New York Post that he’s excited to share the backcourt with Russell and has “always loved two combo guards playing together.” He brought up his stints in Houston and Charlotte as examples of times he alternated between guard roles, as he played alongside Patrick Beverley and Kemba Walker, respectively. We’ll have to wait and see how this combination of Lin and Russell actually fares on the court once October hits, but for now, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.

The curious case of Timofey Mozgov

The trade has arguably drawn the most criticism for the Nets because of the inclusion of 7-foot-1 big man Timofey Mozgov. He hasn’t been particularly relevant in the NBA since his days with the 2016 Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, but even then, he played a more limited role after Tristan Thompson’s breakout in the playoffs. Moreover, anything Mozgov ends up doing for the Nets may end up being overshadowed by his ridiculously inane contract — the Nets will have to eat up the $15.3 million he’ll be making next season, on the four-year, $64 million contract he signed with the Lakers last offseason.

There are still ways Mozgov could turn into a serviceable center, however. NetsDaily’s Bryan Fonseca wrote an interesting piece about how Mozgov “is a (bit of) a new NBA center,” which is largely due to the fact that Mozgov will be able to provide for the Nets in categories where Lopez lacked: defense and rebounding. Mozgov’s per-36 minutes averages show he’s still capable of producing at a respectable level (13.5 points per 36 minutes is his career average), though his 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes should be the statistic the Nets covet the most. In a way, acquiring Mozgov only further helps the Nets adapt their playing style to the position-less style of the NBA, as the offensive load will no longer need to be carried by Lopez.

It’s unreasonable to think Mozgov will ever be able to produce as consistently and at such a high rate as Brook Lopez, but that won’t be asked of him, nor will it be his role. The addition of Mozgov is a less obvious choice for furthering the Nets’ rebuild, but if he can keep contributing at a similar pace as he has done in his whole NBA career, then it just might all work out in the Nets’ favor.

Exciting times lie ahead for Brooklyn. It isn’t too late to hop on the bandwagon.