No matter the era, Lopez remains Mr. Net
Former All-Star Center Looms Large over Brooklyn’s Rebuilding Plans
It was just a few weeks ago that the Nets formally introduced a long list of new players acquired in the hopes of eventually raising the franchise’s first-ever NBA championship banner in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn.
Noticeably absent from the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park on that steamy, sticky afternoon in July was former All-Star center Brook Lopez.
But his presence always looms large over the Brooklyn basketball landscape.
The 7-foot Stanford alum and 2008 first-round draft pick has spent the past eight years watching the Nets move from New Jersey to the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, put together the most expensive roster in the history of the league, make the playoffs in their first three seasons here and then come crashing back down to earth with a brutal 21-61 campaign last year.
He’s played for the Nets at the Continental Airlines Arena, the Prudential Center and, of course, the Barclays Center.
He’s hooped it up alongside the likes of future Hall of Famers Vince Carter, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the dynamic backcourt duo of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, and been coached by nine different head men since slapping on a Nets uniform.
In other words, Lopez has seen the Nets go through a myriad of “eras” during his time in the NBA, so missing an introductory presser at the team’s state-of-the-art training facility in Industry City a few weeks ago was understandable for the franchise’s lone remaining foundation piece.
But he couldn’t bear to stay away for long.
Lopez, back in Brooklyn and working out with point guard Jeremy Lin and the rest of the new Nets, is again ready to reload and refocus his energies on driving the Nets to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Even if it takes significantly longer than anyone could have imagined when the team advanced to the conference semifinals just three short seasons ago.
“It’s definitely a different culture, mindset and energy,” Lopez said, referring to his new gaggle of teammates, along with general manager Sean Marks and first-year head coach Kenny Atkinston.
“I kind of noticed it right when our new top guys stepped in the door,” he added. “It absolutely feels as if we’ve gotten past those changes and past the turnover and we’re building that base and moving in the right direction.”
Perhaps no organization in the league has gone through more transitions over the past decade than these Nets, be it a change of locale, the ever-shifting coaching culture or the level of expectations, once raised to lofty heights by billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s deep pockets, and now back down to rebuilding mode under Marks’ leadership.
Lopez, the only player in his draft class to play all 82 games in each of his first three seasons, has remained in place and rock solid through it all, despite missing the better part of two seasons with foot and ankle injuries since the franchise’s relocation.
For his career, Lopez has averaged 18.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest, numbers he actually improved upon during last season’s disaster, when he put up 20.6 points, 7.8 boards and 1.7 blocks while playing all but nine of the Nets’ 82 regular-season contests.
Head coaches Lawrence Frank, Kike Vandeweghe, Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, Tony Brown and Atkinson have all taken turns lauding the importance of Lopez as the man in the middle of it all for the Nets.
And whether the team was winning a franchise-low 12 games in 2009-10 or going 49-33 during the historic first season in Brooklyn in 2012-13, Lopez has remained steadfast in his belief that this is exactly where he wants to be.
“Being around different situations, we’ve had winning teams, we’ve struggled in the past as well, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like this situation before,” Lopez said of the Nets’ new system, which preaches patience over the quick fix.
“It has a different feel, a different vibe around it,” he added. “To see the kind of people we have buying in and wanting to join up speaks volumes for the situation we have in front of us right now.”
That situation doesn’t promise the 28-year-old Lopez, who has two years remaining on his current contract, a championship parade in the next few seasons.
Nor does it guarantee that he will be around to see these new young Nets rise to the heights Marks and Atkinson envisioned when they began putting this team together.
Lin, who inked a three-year pact to help the Nets in their player development movement, likely would not have done so if he didn’t have Lopez to feed the ball to in the paint.
“I’m betting on certain people. I’m betting on Kenny, I’m betting on Sean, I’m betting on myself, I’m betting on Brook Lopez,” Lin intimated last month.
“If I didn’t feel like this organization had a chance to go where I want to go, then I wouldn’t have signed up for it.”
Neither would Lopez, who has signed two new contracts with the franchise since his rookie deal in 2008, giving him the undisputed title of Mr. Net.
“It’s a process,” admitted Lopez. “It’s a challenge, and the biggest thing I’d say is that I believe in this, I believe in what we’re capable of becoming.”
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