As the Nets assess their foundation and begin the teardown, it looks like Brook Lopez could be the first piece chopped from the roster. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Nets have “accelerated” trade discussions surrounding the seven-foot center.
The Nets have had discussions about trading Lopez seemingly since the second they drafted him, but Lopez has stuck around despite the rumors for nearly seven years. Wojnarowski adds that Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson is in their sights, and ESPN’s Chris Broussard says the Nets are working on a three-team trade with the Hornets & Oklahoma City Thunder, with the framework including Nets guard Jarrett Jack and Thunder guard Jeremy Lamb going to the Hornets. Broussard adds that the deal is being held up by the Nets and Thunder.
Wojnarowski reported that the most serious suitors for the Nets’ Lopez are in the West, including the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Lakers lack the assets to make it work. Any deal with the Lakers would likely include the injured Steve Nash’s expiring deal to help match salaries, but beyond that the Lakers lack young assets beyond the injured Julius Randle.
Lopez is the most likely player of the Nets’ “Big 3” to be dealt before the February 19th trade deadline, sources in the organization have indicated to The Brooklyn Game.
With both Stephenson and Lopez seemingly in need of a fresh start somewhere new, it makes sense for the Nets to do their due diligence. Lopez has been relegated to bench duty in place of the rapidly improving Mason Plumlee, and there’s no road for him back into the starting lineup any time soon. The Hornets have shown interest in Lopez before, but it’s an odd fit with the team already starting the similarly-skilled Al Jefferson at center. The Hornets could just try to go big and start both of them, moving Cody Zeller or Bismack Biyombo to the bench (or to Brooklyn in a deal).
A theoretical Lopez-for-Stephenson swap doesn’t work under the cap by itself: the Hornets would need to send at least one more player to the Nets to make salaries match. Stephenson is in the first year of a three-year contract that pays him $9 million annually.
The dynamic, mercurial Stephenson is a Brooklyn native who has struggled to fit in with the Hornets after emerging as a key part of last year’s Indiana Pacers playoff run for his play as much as his antics. Stephenson’s numbers are down across the board in 26 games (25 starts) in Charlotte, missing 14 games with a pelvic sprain. He has reportedly clashed with backcourt mate Kemba Walker, and has a reputation as a difficult player to deal with from an organizational perspective, and had ugly run-ins with the law prior to his NBA career.
Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Chris Mannix reports that the Nuggets are also involved in trade talks with the Nets:
The Denver Nuggets are among the teams expressing the most interest in Nets center Brook Lopez, multiple sources tell SI.
— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) January 16, 2015
Denver has just two “true” centers in JaVale McGee and Jusuf Nurkic, and could use the added depth in the frontcourt. There have also been reports that the Nuggets, fast falling out of contention in the strong Western Conference, are willing to start selling off some of their assets. The NBA’s David Aldridge reported that the Nuggets were shopping Wilson Chandler “hard” to the highest bidder, and the team traded Nate Robinson to the Boston Celtics for Jameer Nelson just days ago.
It seems like we get a host of Brook Lopez trade rumors every year, but with the team looking lifeless and Lopez playing his new role as a backup jump shooter, the end of the road might be near for Brook & Brooklyn.