NEW YORK -- As Brook Lopez hobbled on crutches at halftime to discuss his latest foot surgery with reporters, rookie Mason Plumlee was giving the Nets a surprising glimpse of how good he could be one day.
On Sunday night, Plumlee held his own against New Orleans’ former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, delivering a Davis-like stat line of 22 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
Plumlee’s energy and athleticism sparked the Nets’ 93-81 win over the Pelicans. While Plumlee showed his potential, the Nets’ future beyond this season still hangs on their other young but injured big man.
Lopez insists “there’s no question” he can return to his All-Star level, despite undergoing a third surgery on his right foot in January. That's no guarantee, considering how foot injuries can be troublesome for oversized big men like Yao Ming, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Rik Smits, among others.
But unless the Nets know Lopez’s career is closer to being done, Brooklyn should hold on to Brook at the trading deadline.
The Nets will be tempted before the Feb. 20 trade deadline to make a deal that will boost their hopes of making not only a run for a high playoff seed but improve their odds in the postseason with the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
The Nets, currently 23-26, can practically sniff .500 and are poised to make a run at the Atlantic Division with third or fourth place in the weak Eastern Conference there for the taking.
“I’m very excited about the way the team is playing at the present,” Lopez said. “I don’t really know what the future holds for myself personally, they’ve kept me in the dark a lot. I never really know what’s going on in my life, but I’m doing my best to get healthy and be here for the guys.”
Lopez said that with a chuckle. His latest injury is nothing to laugh at though. He had surgery to repair the fractured fifth metatarsal of his right foot and a first metatarsal osteotomy procedure to reposition another bone in his foot.
“There has been a history with [Ilgauskas] and we did the same [procedure] that he and Grant [Hill] did as well,” Lopez said. “We are sort of looking into their histories and experiences as well.”
Lopez has an arduous road to recovery. But unless the Nets trade for a serious difference-maker who can vastly improve their odds of challenging the Pacers and Heat, Brooklyn should hold on to Brook.
Look, there might not even be any teams out there who want to take a chance on Lopez, who has a contract with two years left. But Lopez is still a 25-year-old, 7-foot All-Star capable of averaging 20 points and eight rebounds.
The Lakers reportedly have talked with the Suns about Pau Gasol's expiring contract. Gasol would give the Nets a veteran center who can shoot, pass and rebound -– all things they can use right now.
But a league source says Los Angeles wants a first-round pick in any package. Plus, the Lakers may not be interested in Lopez. Either way, Gasol doesn’t suddenly make the Nets better than the Heat or Pacers.
The Nets are in dire need of an athletic big like Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders, who can rebound, block shots and give them a much-needed defensive presence inside to go along with Garnett.
But the Nets have to give up something to get an energetic young big to go with their veteran cast, and their two biggest chips are likely Deron Williams and Lopez.
The Nets built their franchise around Lopez and Williams, and at the moment, that future doesn’t look as bright as it once did. Lopez is out for the season. Williams, plagued by injuries, has underperformed thus far this season.
Unless trading one of those two can return another legitimate star, the Nets are better off holding on to them rather than dealing one for a guy who can only marginally help the Nets this season.
Lopez was perhaps the most excited Net about the prospect of playing this season alongside Garnett and Pierce. He lasted just 17 games.
There’s no guarantee that Garnett and Pierce will return next season. And there are no assurances Lopez will be healthy next season.
But the big man would love another shot at playing with Garnett and Pierce next season. If Lopez has any chance of recovering, the Nets owe it to themselves to see it through.
You don’t find many bigs with his size and skill at his age. And he was never the most athletic guy to begin with, so it’s not like his game will change drastically as long as his foot holds up. And with today's medical technology and the best doctors on the case, Lopez has reason to be optimistic.
“I’m not scared at all,” Lopez said. “There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be back out there on the court playing with my guys.”