Friday, April 6, 2012
Lopez's absence too much to overcome
By Mike Mazzeo
The Nets have missed an NBA-high 205 games due to injury, illness and personal reasons through the first 56 games of the season.
By the time the 2011-12 campaign comes to a close, Brook Lopez will have missed 61 games by himself.
Lopez’s injury-plagued season -- one seemingly filled with one disappointment after another -- officially came to an end on Friday, when the Nets announced he was done for the year.
The 24-year-old center had never missed a game in his first three seasons in the NBA, and the Nets were looking forward to pairing him with All-Star point Deron Williams to see what the two could accomplish together on the court.
But Lopez, who had been working so hard to improve as a rebounder and appeared to be making significant strides in that facet of his game, fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot during the team’s final preseason game on Dec. 21, and missed the first 32 games of the regular year -- and 33 of the first 34 -- as a result.
By the time he returned, the Nets had stumbled out to a 9-23 start. After scoring 24 points in his first two games combined, Lopez erupted for 38 points -- one short of his career-high -- on Feb. 28 in a 93-92 upset victory over the defending champion Mavericks, giving the team hope that there were better things to come.
But after dropping 28 points in a loss in Boston on March 2, Lopez sprained his right ankle in Charlotte two days later.
At first, he was only supposed to miss three weeks. But a CT scan revealed a “small line” that hadn’t been discovered before, and three weeks turned into five weeks.
So, by Friday -- with just 10 games remaining in the season -- Lopez, his representation and GM Billy King came to a joint decision: he’d sit out the rest of the year.
Lopez is going to be a restricted free agent, so it made no sense for him to come back and risk further injury in what has become a lost season for himself and his team.
Lopez is still young and possesses plenty of upside, as well as an interior scoring ability that few other centers in the league can match, so he figures to get a significant raise from the $3.1 million he made this season in the last year of his rookie contract.
The Nets will be able to match any offer made to Lopez over the summer, and can go over the salary cap to sign him because they have his Bird Rights; Lopez’s cap hold is $7.7 million.
Williams and Lopez -- who the Nets had hoped would be a dynamic inside-outside duo capable of making a playoff push together this season -- have played just 17 games together, going 6-11 in those games (4-8 in 2010-11, 2-3 in 2011-12). And if Williams leaves in free agency, the two will never have played one truly meaningful game together.
While Lopez has spent most nights in a suit on the bench, Williams has been forced to make due with centers like Shelden Williams and Johan Petro.
The results haven’t been pretty: The Nets rank dead-last in points in the paint and next-to-last in defensive rebounding.
They’ve started 22 different lineups and played 21 different players -- and won 33.9 percent of their games as a result.
They would’ve been a much better had Lopez been healthy. Maybe they even would’ve made the playoffs.
Instead, they may end up wondering what could’ve been.