When you spend a record $190 million in payroll and luxury-tax commitments, chances are you've exhausted most of your assets. That's the case for the Brooklyn Nets, as they can't trade a first-round pick until 2020.
Because this is such a veteran-heavy roster that's well beyond the salary cap, the Nets only have a small handful of trade assets to deal with.
The biggest of those trade assets, in more ways than one, is 7' center Brook Lopez. Although he was once viewed as integral to Brooklyn's success, the Nets have found their way without Lopez, who played in just 17 games before losing his season to foot and ankle injury.
While the Nets have become quicker defensively and spaced the floor with greater success in his absence, Lopez has undergone a second surgery on his other foot, which is obviously a very scary proposition for a man of his size. Here's Tim Bontemps of the New York Post with his take:
Finally, let’s get back to Lopez, whom the Nets have found plenty of success with him sidelined, leading to the inevitable conversation of whether or not Lopez would actually fit in the new system the Nets are playing, using more speed and quickness on defense — a pair of things Lopez, for all of the things he does so well, doesn’t possess.
Given those injury concerns and the haul Lopez might be able to bring back, it would seem to make sense for the Nets to at least explore the option of trading him this offseason.
That being said, there are few centers as talented as Lopez offensively, even if he requires plenty of time and space on the low block. For what it's worth, Nets GM Billy King thinks that Lopez can adapt to this current roster when given the chance, as he told Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:
“It’s hard to say he’s got to improve because he hasn’t had a chance to be a part of it,” King said. “We played a certain way [before]. We’d throw it to Brook, throw it to Brook and he’d score for us. Now I think the way we’re playing is a little different. I think Brook would’ve easily adapted because for one, he can shoot the ball from the perimeter.
“I don’t think we’d be playing the same way we did last year with Brook. I think we’d be playing this way, where the ball would move.”
There are just so many unknowns with Lopez at this point. Is he going to be healthy or mobile enough to play at a high level? Will be he able to be an effective pick-and-roll partner for Deron Williams? Can he rebound well enough and protect the rim, two areas of the game he's always struggled with?
Perhaps most importantly, are his biggest strengths compatible with Brooklyn's needs?
Here's Grantland's Zach Lowe with more:
Trading Lopez could theoretically work in both directions, though it would be painful for an organization that has nurtured his tremendous growth. Such a deal could leave Brooklyn with zero reliable bigs next season, since Kevin Garnett may retire and Andray Blatche has likely played his way into a better contract. Lopez is also dealing with his second major foot injury, which hurts his trade value. But the Nets have found an identity without him, and he’s a talented player with just two years left after this one on a fair contract.
While it's possible that too much is being put into Brooklyn's modest success without Lopez, Brooklyn probably can't afford to be overly patient.
Lopez has two years and $32.5 million remaining on his contract, but the second year contains a player option. If Lopez wants to obtain long-term financial security in the 2015 offseason, which might be likely given his recent injuries, he very well could opt out.
That means the Nets might be wise to treat Lopez as if he's on an expiring deal this offseason. While the futures of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are up in the air, you would think that the Nets will make one more run, which would line up with Lopez's salary schedule.
Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the Nets will be in line for massive cap room, as Joe Johnson and Williams will be due over $46 million combined for the 2015-16 season. That creates a bit of a tricky situation, but hypothetically, Lopez could be traded for a player on a longer contract without any real consequence. That should open up at least a few opportunities.
Even with Lopez's stock at an all-time low, he's easily Brooklyn's best available trade asset. Williams has had plenty of injury issues in his own right, and Johnson's massive contract is untouchable at this point. Garnett and Pierce control their own destinies and aren't really trade assets at this stage of their careers. Mason Plumlee is really the only young role player that could bring back something substantial.
Without draft picks, young players or cap space to utilize, trading Lopez might be the lone avenue the Nets can explore to vault into title contention next year.