By Steve Lichtenstein
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In its latest edition, Forbes ranked the Nets as the seventh-most valuable NBA franchise with a net worth of approximately $1.8 billion.
I could joke about how little of it is related to the product on the basketball court, how the collective value of the Nets’ current roster is probably worth about 15 cents. But it’s not hyperbole to suggest that Brooklyn’s high standing in the business publication is due entirely to its playing in a nice building in a huge market.
The Nets are entrenched as the league’s worst team, with a record of 9-47 heading into the All-Star break, following Wednesday’s 129-125 loss to Milwaukee, Brooklyn’s 14th consecutive defeat and 16th in a row at home.
With the NBA’s trade deadline a week away, there are no untouchables on this roster. Even young guns like Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough should be on the table if the right deal presents itself.
Nor does the future hold much worth, given that Brooklyn currently has no shot at a lottery pick until the 2019 draft.
Forbes, however, made its estimate based upon its analysis of what price others would pay to acquire the Nets in an open market.
Which brings me to center Brook Lopez, who for eight-plus seasons has been worth more to the Nets’ franchise than what others were willing to pay for his services. It is why he hasn’t been dealt despite a plethora of rumors over the years.
Lopez’s name has again been bandied about in various media reports, most recently by Michael Scotto of BasketballInsiders.com.
Scotto’s source had Lopez going to New Orleans for three reserves and a protected first-round draft pick in 2018. That seemed to contradict ESPN’s Mark Stein, who subsequently confirmed his earlier report that Nets general manager Sean Marks was adamant that it would take two first-rounders to pry Lopez away from Brooklyn.
That’s quite a discrepancy.
The problem is Lopez has always been a mixed bag. He’s a legitimate 20-point scorer and he does it rather efficiently, with a career shooting percentage over 50 percent. He’s even added 3-point range this season, making 34.4 percent on his 5.1 attempts per game.
Wednesday’s game was a perfect example of the Lopez quandary. He poured in 36 points while going 6-for-10 from 3-point territory to become the first player in NBA history to make six treys and block eight shots in a game.
If it was indeed Lopez’s swan song as a Net, it was quite operatic.
Ah, but any acquiring team wishing to benefit from Lopez’s unique skillset must also learn to live with his many deficiencies. His lack of foot speed makes him a liability on defense. You just can’t gloss over the fact that Greg Monroe, Lopez’s opposite number on Wednesday, went for 25 points on 12-for-16 shooting from the floor.
Whenever the Bucks needed a basket, they just used Lopez’s man to set a screen for a basic pick and roll. Lopez reverted to his old habits of positioning himself in no-man’s land on those plays. That made him ineffective in both containing the ballhandler and in keeping the roll men from getting free for layups. In today’s fast-paced game, you need bigs who can be active against pick and rolls, but Lopez is too slow to be aggressive out high without getting completely taken out of the play.
While the blocked shot numbers (Lopez ranks eighth in the NBA with 1.8 per game) suggest he is a solid rim protector, it also comes at a cost. The Nets are just 23rd in defensive rebound percentage because Lopez just doesn’t give his team the required second and third jumps to get after loose balls. The 7-foot Lopez registered only two defensive rebounds in 35 minutes on Wednesday.
Do you think teams around the league haven’t noticed these flaws?
On one hand, I have had a high conviction since the summer that this would be the season that the loyal Lopez would finally bid farewell to the only organization he has known, even if it turned over players, coaches and arenas multiple times during his tenure.
A trade would work for both parties. Lopez would get a fresh start for a team that believes he could be a key piece to some run to or in the postseason. He’s also Brooklyn’s best asset, the only one that could possibly fetch a decent pick in what’s touted as a loaded 2017 draft.
But then I look around the league and I wonder who could use him. A lot of big men have changed addresses around the last few trade deadlines and summers, yet Lopez has stayed put.
Teams like Milwaukee and Portland seemed like possible fits, but they both recently went in other directions, just like Oklahoma City did a year ago when it acquired Enes Kanter after reports indicated that Lopez was set to join the Thunder in a proposed trade for point guard Reggie Jackson.
New Orleans allegedly prefer the Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor, but the Pelicans may reconnect with Marks closer to the deadline if talks with the 76ers fall through.
The only way Marks could possibly obtain the second first-round pick he covets is if he uses the Nets’ ample salary cap space (about $15.8 million, according to The Vertical) to take on a bloated contract in the deal. Pelicans center Omar Asik, who has three years to go at an average of over $11 million per season, is just an example.
It’s not a terrible idea. The Nets are $6.8 million under this season’s salary floor, which means owner Mikhail Prokhorov will be spending that money anyway. The space is an asset now. If they still have it after Feb. 23, it is wasted.
Marks was creative in the offseason in his bids for restricted free agents, but they were matched. He’s going to have to be even more creative now to bring back quality assets for a player who shouldn’t be around when the Nets one day turn the corner.
But if he is insistent on setting Lopez’s market value, the market won’t react kindly.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1