Brook Lopez is out, so now what?
The Nets' disappointing campaign just got worse with the news that All-Star center Brook Lopez is done for the season with a broken foot. Our 5-on-5 writers weigh in on the situation.
1. Your first thoughts on hearing about Brook Lopez's latest injury?
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Disappointment. Our league is better when the best players are healthy, and Lopez is another marquee player who has been lost to the injury bug. It's a shame it happened to him, as he was putting together what could have been a career year.
James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: My thoughts weren't profound. Basically: This is awful. It seems as if every other day brings another significant injury in the NBA. This one is particularly depressing because of Lopez's history of foot issues and the dark cloud that has hung over the Nets all season.
Mike Mazzeo, ESPN New York: They're 9-17. Their most efficient player is done for the year. Their 2014 first-round pick doesn't belong to them. That's pretty much as bad as it gets. And this is a $190 million team that had championship aspirations at the beginning of the season.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: Another one? Injuries robbed us of so many marquee players last season, but that's now the three best guys on three of the NBA's most high-profile teams. Though my surprise was tempered as I quickly skipped to the last stage of grief, acceptance, given that it is the Nets and that Lopez is a behemoth who broke that foot before.
Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN New York: Absolutely devastating news for the Nets. It's like a punch to their gut. Deron Williams is a major difference-maker, but Brooklyn was going to go as far as Lopez could take it in the playoffs. He's a source of easy baskets and was the Nets' advantage over so many teams. Jason Kidd no longer has a young 7-foot All-Star inside presence entering his prime for this season, and Lopez was the biggest reason the Nets could have made some noise in the playoffs.
2. Will Lopez play in another All-Star Game?
Elhassan: Yes. As long as he takes his time with recovery and rehab, there's no reason to believe Lopez won't return to form. His game never relied on quickness, explosion or athleticism, so there should be no fear of "lost pop." However, he's had the same foot surgically repaired twice, so there is a risk of re-injury we should be aware of.
Herbert: Keeping in mind that Zydrunas Ilgauskas was an All-Star in 2003 and 2005, years after many assumed foot problems would end his career, I'll say yes. Lopez is just 25 years old and would have been an obvious selection on the East squad this season. I'll be optimistic about this.
Mazzeo: He came back from this same injury once before to play in his first and only All-Star game last season, so I hope so. But who knows. He was so dominant before getting hurt again. It really is unfortunate.
Verrier: I'll say yes. There will be competition in the East, with Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler and Al Horford around and Andre Drummond and Jonas Valanciunas on the rise, but Lopez's flashy offensive numbers will always make him shinier in this popularity content. Leg injuries have famously felled All-Star big men before, but there are no apple-to-apple situations with the human body.
Youngmisuk: I do believe he will play in another All-Star Game only because there just aren't that many talented 7-footers. But health is a major issue for Lopez moving forward. When you are that big and have feet problems, that can be a hard thing to overcome.
3. What is the Nets' outlook this season?
Elhassan: Bleak, and I'm not talking about the labelmate of former Nets minority owner Shawn Carter. Lopez was their offensive workhorse and had made improvements as far as being a defensive presence. The team has already battled injuries to other key players, but this arguably is the biggest blow. It puts an enormous stress on Williams to carry a bigger load of the offense, and worst of all, the Nets will have to endure swapping what likely will be a lottery pick for Atlanta's pick in the bottom half of the first round.
Herbert: It's bleak. Yesterday, the outlook wasn't great; now they're an entirely different (and much worse) team. Brooklyn went all-in on the season then dug itself a deep hole. It's going to be hellish trying to salvage it now.
Mazzeo: They can probably still win the Titanic Division. As for a playoff run? Well, that's another story. Even if GM Billy King is able to add help, it won't be as good as a healthy Lopez. Tough break.
Verrier: Ominous. Their free-spending bungles are crueler than the Knicks' in their dark ages because the Nets actually acquired good players. Brooklyn's December was even (relatively) good. But it's hard for any rational person to think positively about a team now relying on Andray Blatche. The East is putrid and the talent is still there, with Andrei Kirilenko still to come, but a playoff berth would be Christmas miracle-type stuff.
Youngmisuk: The Nets still have enough on their roster to make the playoffs. But how far will they go with the aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce? They went after those guys to win a title now, and that pretty much seems unrealistic with Lopez out. The Nets might make a move, but if they do, will it be to win now or more with the future in mind?
4. Should the Nets pursue a trade for Pau Gasol?
Elhassan: I just don't see a permutation of a Gasol trade that helps either team. The Lakers need help at point guard and a big, but the Nets wouldn't move Lopez or Williams for a rental. Brooklyn would rather send out a contract like Pierce or Joe Johnson, but the Lakers are well-stocked at wing and Johnson's contract is a dealbreaker. Maybe Pierce and Mason Plumlee? But again, why would Brooklyn give up another young asset?
Herbert: They should at least explore moving Pierce for him. With Kirilenko coming back soon, swapping Pierce for Pau would make Brooklyn more balanced. Not sure the Lakers would entertain the idea of trading Gasol for someone older than him, though.
Mazzeo: Considering they're in win-now mode, they should explore all their options. With a lack of young assets and future draft picks, it makes sense to try to make short-term upgrades, i.e., pursuing a Gasol deal if possible.
Verrier: Sure, why not? A full-on rebuild would be the recommendation, but making it back into the black is nearly impossible after giving away draft picks like free candy. Dealing Lopez's hefty deal would seem a difficult task at this point, but the future doesn't exist in Brooklyn, so max out the credit cards and capitalize on this supposed window in any way possible.
Youngmisuk: Mikhail Prokhorov, King and Kidd will all be thinking about what moves they can make. Gasol might be available. Houston's Omer Asik and possibly Jeremy Lin are available too. If the Nets believe they can't win it all this season, they could opt to make a move to potentially break up their win-now roster and trade a veteran.
5. Which team will win the Atlantic Division?
Elhassan: What a ridiculously embarrassing situation the league finds itself in, where two teams that want to win the division can't get out of their own way while two teams that would love a high lottery finish (Toronto and Boston) can't stop playing "well" (by Eastern Conference standards). This is like the guy who needs to miss a free throw at the end of the game and ends up banking it in! At this point, I'd have to say Boston has the best chance, as it is on the same page and its young talent is playing well.
Herbert: The million-dollar question. As things stand, the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors seem like the best bets. Of those two, Toronto seems likelier to dismantle the roster and try to tank the season. Doubt this was Danny Ainge's plan, but the returning Rajon Rondo will probably lead the Celtics to the playoffs.
Mazzeo: Haven't a clue. Every team in there but Philly appears to have a chance. There are still moves to be made. Maybe a trade down the road ends up separating one team from the rest of the pack.
Verrier: No one wins here. But in the literal sense, I'm going with the Knicks, by default. They're the only team that has both the desire and ability to do so. Everyone else is tanking, either by will or by force. The Celtics, with Rondo's return on the horizon, are certainly the front-runners, but playoff contention without title contention doesn't fit the Ainge profile.
Youngmisuk: The Nets still have enough to win this woeful division with Pierce, Garnett, Johnson and Williams and depth on the bench when Kirilenko and Jason Terry return. I'm really intrigued by Boston. Brad Stevens has the Celtics playing hard and could have Rondo back soon. Rondo might make everybody around him even better, but there could be an adjustment period. This certainly opens things up for the drama-filled Knicks, especially with Tyson Chandler back. I think the Knicks will start playing better, and when they get healthy, they have a chance to win the division again. I think it comes down to the Knicks and the Nets in the division in an ugly battle to the end.