The Brooklyn Nets appear intent on trading center Brook Lopez, but where he lands and for how much remains a major sticking point in any deal before the Feb. 19 trade deadline.
In recent weeks, the 26-year-old seemed to have his bags packed for a run with the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of a three-team mega deal that would have sent Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson to Brooklyn. But that deal was nixed, perhaps because of the more than $18.4 million owed to Stephenson over the next two seasons.
Now the Nets are being a little less aggressive on the trade market, with general manager Billy King fielding offers for Lopez, and guards Joe Johnson and Deron Williams rather than making them. King said he wants to see how the Nets play now that Williams has returned from and 11-game hiatus due to a rib injury.
"I would say more now, we're not making phone calls, phone calls are coming in, and we're evaluating things, but right now I want to see this group play," King said according ESPN New York. "I still have confidence in this group that they can get the job done, get us in the playoffs. So right now we're going to see how we can finish up going into the All-Star break, and then go in and we have a week after that to the deadline, and if a deal makes sense we'll do it, but we're not going to just make a trade to make a trade."
Thus, the demand for Lopez is high but the Nets may be trying to elevate his trade value.
As recently as Monday, Brooklyn rejected overtures from the Denver Nuggets for Lopez. According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Nuggets were willing to part with center JaVale McGee and forward J.J. Hickson, as well as two draft picks. Stein also reported that one of the selections would have been a future first-rounder.
The Nuggets appear the most likely suitor for Lopez at this point. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, Lopez prefers to stay with Brooklyn. In mid-January, Adrian Wojnarowski, also of Yahoo Sports, cited sources that said the Nets would not deal Lopez in a salary dump.
Brooklyn could be seeking some salary-cap relief as well as draft picks instead of players for the near future. McGee and Hickson will make a combined $18 million next season, which is more than the $16.7 million player option Lopez holds for next season. The Nets have the highest payroll in the NBA at $91.2 million, and figure to have that distinction next year with $76.7 million devoted to salaries.
A lack of available big men on the trade market has perhaps elevated Lopez's stock. Appearing in 37 of a possible 47 games, the 7-footer is averaging 15.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. However, Lopez hasn't played 80 games or more in a season since 2010-2011, and appeared in just 17 games in 2013-2014. Head coach Lionel Hollins has played Lopez just 27.2 minutes per game this season.
With a 19-29 record and owners of the No. 26-ranked defense in the league, the Nuggets could use a big man despite slim hopes of reaching the playoffs. On Jan. 7, center Timofey Mozgov was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Nuggets currently lack a player over 6'8 who is averaging 10 points or more per game.
Denver is enjoying a masterful season from point guard Ty Lawson, and has talented wings like Arron Affalo and Wilson Chandler, as well as hard-nosed rebounder Kenneth Faried. The Nuggets own the 10th best record in the West, and trail the Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma Thunder for the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.