At the center of it all: Lopez eager to begin Nets’ Downtown resurrection

July 18, 2012 By John Torenli Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez is a DC man. When it comes to comics, that is. He just hasn’t been spending too much time reading about “Superman” lately.

The Stanford-educated 7-footer also enjoys a good Ian Fleming James Bond novel, and regularly indulges in virtually anything by his favorite author, Mark Twain.

So when Lopez, who last week inked a reported four-year, $61 million deal to help usher in a new era of Brooklyn basketball at the nearly complete Barclays Center this coming November, was asked how much time he spent worrying about his name being throw around in almost constant Dwight Howard, a.k.a. Superman, trade rumors since last season, he revealed his secret to avoiding the at-times mind-numbing media maelstrom: reading.

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“It didn’t bother me too much,” Lopez said Wednesday morning at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, where he was joined by Nets coach Avery Johnson to officially confirm his return to Brooklyn’s first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957. “I don’t really read a lot of what you guys write, or put on the Internet too much. I keep to myself, read a lot of books and comic books, and none of them mentioned Dwight Howard.

“It wasn’t a conscious effort of avoiding the media,” added the North Hollywood native. “That’s just what I naturally do. I don’t watch a lot of television anyway. I don’t read a lot of sports publications. It wasn’t that difficult for me to avoid it.”

Howard, the Orlando Magic’s embattled All-Star center, was certainly sought after by Nets general Billy King, who missed Wednesday’s local fete for Lopez to undergo a knee procedure. But in the end, the Nets held on to their longest-tenured player (four seasons) and most reliable presence before a foot injury forced him to miss all but five games last season.

So following an offseason of dodging trade rumors and rehabilitating a foot and ankle injury that derailed a streak that saw him play in each and every one of the Nets’ 246 games during his first three seasons as a pro, Lopez is “anxious” and ready to join Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries in the team’s inaugural game on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

“I’m so happy that I’m still a Net,” Lopez gushed. “It’s what I wanted through the whole free agency process. Ever since being drafted on draft night [10th overall by New Jersey in 2008], I wanted to be a Net my entire career. It’s been an incredible experience for me. These are really exciting times. I can’t wait to be on the court in a Brooklyn Nets jersey.”

Johnson, who knows a thing or two about the business of basketballl after two decades as an NBA coach and player, admitted that he’d given Lopez a pep talk prior to his free agency on July 1, insisting that the Nets’ pivotman focus on getting healthy and ready for what promises to be an historic first season in our fair borough.

“He understood where I was and how I feel about him,” Johnson said of Lopez. “When his name was brought up in rumors and trade speculation, I told him to take it as flattery. Brook being one of the top five centers in the NBA, there are 25 other teams that would want his services. He was obviously drawing interest from other teams during the free agency process, but he’s home, he’s with the Brooklyn Nets and he will be in the starting lineup Opening Night.”

Lopez, who ranks second among all NBA centers in scoring average over the past three seasons, can’t wait to get back into action, especially after spending most of last year watching helplessly as the Nets missed the playoffs for the fifth straight time while finishing dead last in the Atlantic Division with a 22-44 mark.

“It was definitely a struggle for me sitting out this previous season,” he admitted. “It’s something I didn’t go through before and made me realize how much I love the game. I’ve very anxious to start this season off. I’m counting down the days.”

Surviving free agency and the non-stop chatter of potentially being forced to leave the only NBA home he’s ever known has doubtlessly steeled Lopez for what he hopes will be a return to prominence after averaging a career-best 20.4 points per game during the 2010-11 campaign.

“There’s definitely a motivational factor,” he said. “I’m looking forward to starting the season. I’ve been doing a lot of weightlifting and a lot of exercise to keep pressure off the foot, but stay in shape as much as possible and get ready for basketball.”

The only downside to the remainder of the summer for Lopez strangely enough is that he’s set to embark on a cruise Thursday, which will prevent him from indulging in one of his passions.

“Unfortunately, I’m going to miss the Batman movie,” he noted with a hint of sadness.

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Hoop du Jour: The Nets will reportedly pay Humphries, who agreed to terms on a new deal Tuesday, $24 million over the next two years to fortify their frontcourt, giving Lopez some much-needed help along the boards next season. “I think Hump’s a tenacious rebounder, he never gives up on plays,” Lopez said of his teammate.”He really complements my game.” … Johnson made sure to downplay some of the hype surrounding his new-look unit, especially in the wake of ongoing prognostications that the Nets would be able to compete with the NBA champion Miami Heat for a trip to the Finals as soon as next season. “We still have to play the games, but the possibilites of a great team is there,” Johnson noted. “It’s all about the team. I believe we have great ownership. [Nets owner] Mikhail [Prokhorov] and I talked about a five-year plan, and we’re smack dab in the middle of that. I think the potential possibility for us being a special team is there. Whether we’re the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, who knows?  We haven’t even played a playoff series yet. But I think there are wonderful possibilities ahead for us. I don’t think you’ve heard me say that in my two years here. It’s going to be up to the leadership of the team, which includes the coaching staff, myself and the players on this team to fulfill our potential.” … Despite his lucrative contract, Lopez’s name might still be brought up in Howard trade rumors if the Magic are unable to complete a swap with either the Los Angeles Lakers or Houston Rockets, both potential suitors for the All-Star center’s services, before next season begins. As per the terms of Lopez’s deal, he won’t be eligible to be dealt until Jan. 15, which precedes next season’s trade deadline. Johnson stepped in when Lopez was asked about the Nets re-engaging in trade talks with the Magic at a later date. “When a free agent signs a contract, I don’t think the possibility of being traded in January ever comes up,” Johnson insisted. “That would be a first for me and I’ve been in the league for 20 years.”

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