Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cart Before Horse: Brook Lopez gets a Max Contract

Mired on a team with few highlights for years, Brook Lopez quietly developed into a serviceable center. It wasn't until the (then) New Jersey Nets dealt rookie forward Derrick Favors, point guard Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks and cash to the Utah Jazz for Deron Williams that any positive attention appeared in Newark.

Brook Lopez reveals his charbroiled secret to scoring in the post. (Getty Images)

Williams-to-the-Nets meant a top-tier facilitator paired with one of the few legit 7-footers in professional basketball. Their first whole season together, 2011-2012, should have been full of ESPN Top Ten plays. An early foot injury derailed that possibility, limiting Lopez to just five games.

Fast forward to this summer. The Nets moved across the Hudson River to roost in Brooklyn, continued flirting with the Orlando Magic in an attempt to acquire the increasingly dramatic Dwight Howard, and had to handle Lopez's restricted free agent status with kid gloves. Then it became clear that, when the Dwightmare is over, Howard wouldn't wake up on the East Coast.

Despite his injury, Nets management had to re-sign Lopez. What's more is, they had to offer Lopez at least $58 million over four years unless they wanted to start a bidding war with the Houston Rockets another team pursuing Howard — or Portland Trailblazers, who missed out on RFA Roy Hibbert when the Indiana Pacers matched the maximum offer sheet the All-Star center signed with the Blazers.

Make no mistake: keeping Lopez is not a move to patch holes. He is a threat to score 20 points in the paint each night, and there are exactly zero NBA teams that would shy away from a center who can fill the bucket like that. Unquestionably, though, there are problems with the deal, and with Lopez. The Standford product puts up points, but is somewhat of a liability on the defensive end. Through four pro seasons, Lopez is averaging just 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 34.1 minutes on the floor. Worse yet is that the numbers dipped last season to 3.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks. Whether or not the numbers from such a small sample size are indicative of what he would have done over a 66-game season, those are unacceptable statistics for a center at any level of basketball — Biddy through The Association.

Lopez has a new contract and, as often is the case in pro sports, he must now prove that he's worth even a fraction of what he's owed. The general populous would do inscrutable things for $60 million. All Lopez has to do is keep making a ball go into a basket, and ensure that his hands work when that orange sphere clangs off the iron.

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