Has Mason Plumlee Made Injury-Prone Brook Lopez Expendable for Brooklyn Nets?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterOctober 17, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20: Paul Pierce #34 Mason Plumlee #1 and Brook Lopez #11 of the Brooklyn Nets during an Open Practice at the Barclays Center on October 20, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

It happened again.

Brook Lopez sprained his foot the other night in an NBA preseason game, an injury expected to cost him 10-14 days, per Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports. It's the same foot he underwent two procedures on in March to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal and a first metatarsal osteotomy. And that fifth metatarsal is the same one he fractured in 2011. 

Brooklyn's ball boys have gotten more action than Lopez over the past three years. Prior to his latest foot sprain, Lopez had missed 134 of his last 230 games, including all but 17 in 2013-14. 

The worst part about this whole thing is that this is the guy whom the Nets have chosen to lean on. To their credit, I guess they didn't expect Deron Williams to break down this early, or at all, into his deal. 

But now the Nets are looking at a fairly old core and no real chance at contending, while they've already traded most of their future assets—the Atlanta Hawks have the right to swap draft picks in 2015, Brooklyn's 2016 first-rounder goes to the Celtics, who then have the right to swap picks with the Nets in 2017 before they're owed another first-rounder from Brooklyn in 2018.

Plus, over the next two seasons, the Nets owe around $48 million to Joe Johnson, about $41 to Williams and roughly $32 to Lopez, so there isn't much flexibility here with which to work.

Although maybe there is. 

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

Arguably the team's most valuable asset right now is center Mason Plumlee, who's coming off an encouraging stint with Team USA in the World Cup and who'll be making less than $3 million in each of his next three seasons.

Considering the Nets probably aren't contending even with a healthy Lopez playing well, maybe it's time to move on and ultimately sacrifice a little present for the future.

The biggest issue for the Nets is that they lack the firepower and probable durability to win now, along with the assets to build later.

And unfortunately, they can't change the "now." 

But management can try and make it easier to improve this team in the long run by shopping Lopez and promoting Plumlee.

And they might as well try and move Lopez sooner rather than later—before his contract expires in 2016 and while he's still technically in one piece. It's tough to say who'd be interested or what the Nets could get in return, although if Lopez is cleared to play, you'd have to imagine there'd be a market. 

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Dealing Lopez for either draft picks or young, untapped talent could help brighten the franchise's future while also allowing them to unleash Plumlee, who isn't exactly a baby at 24 years old.

And who knows—with more minutes, Plumlee might even be able to help the Nets right away. 

Brooklyn finished No. 29 in the NBA in rebounding last year and dead last in rebounding percentage. At 7'0", Lopez has averaged under seven boards a game in each of the last four years. His career rebounding percentage is at an ugly 12.9 percent. 

Plumlee offers a little more activity, bounce and athleticism in the paint. Last year, he averaged 8.7 boards per 36 minutes to Lopez's 6.9. 

Still, moving Lopez and promoting Plumlee isn't about 2014-15. It's about the Nets' long-term plans, which, at this point, lack flexibility and direction. Unless the Nets are interested in re-signing Lopez, again, why not move him, given the injury risk he presents, and attempt to develop the younger, much cheaper Plumlee while also adding future assets—something Brooklyn has none of (outside of Plumlee). 

For what it's worth, Plumlee seems mentally ready to take on a bigger workload. Even prior to Lopez's latest setback, Plumlee talked about his preparation heading into season No. 2, via Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News:

There’s a big role to be filled. With Kevin and Brook from night to night- you don’t know how many minutes they’re going to play. So I’m ready for 40 minutes. I’m ready for four minutes. Whatever they need I’m going to give the best while I’m out there.

He's coming off a few dominant performances in summer league, where he averaged 18 points on 75 percent shooting. And he just went off in preseason for 18 more points in 22 minutes against the Sacramento Kings

Plumlee needs to play, and if Lopez is healthy, it's going to be tough to find him more than 20 minutes a game. If Lopez isn't playing because he's hurt, then Brooklyn would obviously have been better off dealing him in the first place. 

There's no taking away from what Lopez can do when healthy and active. But there's also so much skepticism surrounding his ability to stay that way. 

Before his value starts to fall, the Nets would be wise to explore all trade possibilities for Lopez knowing they have a viable replacement on a rookie deal just waiting to blow up. 

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