Best Potential Free-Agent Landing Spots for Brook Lopez During 2015 Offseason

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 5, 2015

Best Potential Free-Agent Landing Spots for Brook Lopez During 2015 Offseason

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez holds the type of scratch ticket others can only dream about.

    For all the uncertainties surrounding the potential free-agent-to-be, one thing is irrefutable: The scoring 7-footer is quickly closing in on a jackpot payoff.

    He has a $16.7 million player option for next season, but leaving that money on the table should be a no-brainer decision.

    Lopez's history of foot problems (he's had surgeries on his right foot and left ankle) could propel him to pounce on long-term security. After storming through the final stretch of this campaign—19.7 points on 52.5 percent shooting and 9.2 rebounds after the All-Star break—many NBA executives expect him to opt out of his deal and test the free-agent market, according to Grantland's Zach Lowe.

    What isn't nearly as clear, though, is figuring out where that venture will take him.

    "You know, I don't know," Lopez said of his future, via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. "There's lots of different stuff. I haven't thought about it at all. The season just ended, so I haven’t given it any thought."

    That may well be true, but others are surely thinking about him.

    The oft-injured big man quieted plenty of his critics, clearing the 70-game mark for the second time in three seasons and enjoying his best year on the boards since 2009-10. A gifted scorer from the mid-range to the low block, he won't lack for free-agent suitors.

    These six clubs have the cap space to afford him and the personnel to properly showcase his skills. Each has been ranked on its potential appeal to him (offensive fit, prominence of his role) and its likely level of interest in him.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

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    In a perfect world, the Memphis Grizzlies won't be shopping for a center in free agency. If they are, that will mean that two-time All-Star Marc Gasol sought out greener pastures.

    But strange things can happen in free agency; that's why Gasol hasn't backed himself into any corners regarding his impending decision.

    "I haven’t put any time in it," Gasol said, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post. "The truth is, I haven't put any time or any thought in that."

    The safe money seems to be on Gasol sticking around. Not only does he have a rich history in Memphis—he played two years of high school ball in the city and each of his first seven NBA seasons there—but the Grizzlies have also entrenched themselves among the league's elites.

    Still, it's possible that he'll bolt for something better—be that improved championship odds, a bigger media market or anything else that might drive his decision. And if he goes, the Grizzlies would have to consider Lopez as a viable replacement.

    He's a bigger scoring threat than Gasol, and Lopez has the ability to play the high-low game with Zach Randolph or work screen-and-roll action with Mike Conley. Lopez isn't as good a defender, but adding him to the fold wouldn't make Memphis problematically vulnerable underneath.

    The Grizzlies could consider reworking their roster if Gasol leaves. But bringing in Lopez could help them largely maintain the formula that has produced three consecutive 50-win seasons.

5. Portland Trail Blazers

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    The Portland Trail Blazers have enjoyed tremendous success with Brook's twin brother, Robin. But targeting this Lopez could net them a more skilled, more high-scoring center, which they might need if LaMarcus Aldridge departs in free agency.

    This could be a summer of sweeping changes for Portland. Aldridge, Lopez and Wesley Matthews are all slated for unrestricted free agency. Arron Afflalo ($7.7 million player option), Chris Kaman ($5.0 million team option) and Steve Blake ($2.1 million player option) could also find their way onto the open market. Afflalo is expected to opt out of his deal, as sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

    It's possible that the Blazers could let most of them go and refashion their roster around 24-year-old All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. Portland may also look to keep its core intact, considering its starting five of Lillard, Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Aldridge and Lopez thumped opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions.

    But chasing Brook Lopez might represent the middle ground—or serve as an emergency backup plan if the Blazers' prominent free agents chose to leave on their own. His interior offense would provide the same safety net for their shooters that Aldridge has, and he'd offer the same defensive protection that Robin has given them.

    Embracing a youth movement might be tempting with the breakout playoff performances of sophomore combo guard C.J. McCollum and third-year center Meyers Leonard. But adding Brook Lopez while trimming their roster elsewhere could allow Portland to feature some of its younger players without falling out of the postseason race.

4. San Antonio Spurs

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Change is coming to that model of consistency known as the San Antonio Spurs. It's hard to tell who's coming and who's coming this early in the proceedings, but alterations are surely awaiting the Alamo City.

    "The team will probably look considerably different than it looks this year, because we have so many free agents and we want to retool a little bit," coach Gregg Popovich said, via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. "We want to try to startnot exactly over againbecause these last four seasons have been a grind."

    The Spurs have five players under fully guaranteed contracts for next season. That group doesn't include franchise mainstays Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, both of whom will at least consider retirement. Kawhi Leonard also isn't one of those five, though his journey into restricted free agency seems certain to end with his return to San Antonio on a max contract.

    External options for the Spurs include the biggest names in this free-agent crop. One executive told Sporting News' Sean Deveney that Gasol "would be their top target." Sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that "San Antonio sits near or at the top of Aldridge's wish list." The Spurs could look to trade Tiago Splitter to create more financial flexibility, according to Stein.

    It isn't hard to imagine that San Antonio could also have interest in Lopez. He's a half-step behind the aforementioned All-Stars but is productive, in his prime and quite possibly getting better. He isn't the fleetest of foot nor the most imposing defender, but the Spurs typically focus on a player's strengths instead of picking apart his weaknesses.

    San Antonio will need more scoring, either to relieve the burden carried by the 39-year-old Duncan or help the 23-year-old Leonard into the spotlight. Lopez could supply that offense if the Spurs can't convince Aldridge or Gasol to. The youngest of those three, Lopez might even be a better long-term option for San Antonio to continue its run of sustained dominance.

3. Boston Celtics

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    Don't be fooled by the Boston Celtics' surprise playoff appearance. Their rebuild is still a long way from completion, a point hammered home during their first-round sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Boston needs more star power, consistent scoring and a presence in the paint. It could simultaneously scratch all three itches with the Lopez who regularly churned out 20-point, 10-rebound performances over the past few months.

    "If I'm Boston, I'd do my homework on Brook Lopez," Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix said in December, via CSN New England. "He's in his mid-20s. He's a guy who's a pure center, who has been an All-Star. ... If you're rebuilding a team, a guy like that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to start with."

    The Celtics need a go-to scorer. Outside of spark-plug sixth man Isaiah Thomas, no one averaged more than 13.9 points per game. And Boston was routinely gouged on the interior, allowing opponents to shoot 61.3 percent inside the restricted area (tied for eighth-worst in the league).

    Lopez could help address both problems.

    He's tallied 17.9 points and 1.7 blocks over his seven-year career. Those marks would have ranked second and first, respectively, on this season's Celtics. His 49.7 field-goal percentage allowed at the rim also graded out near other interior anchors like DeAndre Jordan (48.5), Marc Gasol (49.4) and Tyson Chandler (50.9).

    If the Celtics hope to hasten their rebuild, Lopez could be the accelerator they need.

2. New York Knicks

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Would Lopez consider simply changing boroughs? There's a geometric reason for the New York Knicks to find out.

    The triangle offense favored by president Phil Jackson and head coach Derek Fisher never got off the ground as the Knicks crashed and burned their way to a 17-65 record. But it's hard to fault a system that features no greater of an interior offensive threat than former draft bust Andrea Bargnani.

    New York needs a steady scoring big to balance this attack. It doesn't have one on the roster—none of the four players with guaranteed contracts next season play in the post—and it might not want to bank all of its hopes on finding one in the draft with 30-year-old Carmelo Anthony's biological clock ticking loudly.

    "Of all their needs in surrounding Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks most want a low-post center to anchor the triangle offense," wrote Marc Berman of the New York Post.

    Lopez's ceiling is several stories higher than those of New York's current crop of bigs. Bargnani finished second to Anthony in scoring with 14.8 points per game. Reserve center Cole Aldrich led the club with a 47.8 field-goal percentage. Lopez went for 17.2 points a night on 51.3 percent shooting. It was his lowest scoring output since his rookie year and his worst shooting mark in three seasons.

    At 27 years old, he's exactly the type of player New York should covet. He's experienced enough to seamlessly slot in alongside Anthony and young enough to take the baton a few years down the line.

    The Knicks could target Karl-Anthony Towns in the draft as a defensive complement for Lopez or could focus on fixing their backcourt with either Emmanuel Mudiay or D'Angelo Russell. There are a lot of holes to fill, and Lopez could occupy the most critical one in this offense.

1. Brooklyn Nets

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    Brooklyn's attempts to manufacture a contender have yet to produce anything of the sort.

    The Nets' pricey trio of Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson just completed its third season together. During those three years, Brooklyn won slightly more than half its games (.533 winning percentage) and lost three of its four playoff series.

    The formula is in desperate need of change.

    "Brooklyn needs to continue to get younger, faster and more athletic," wrote ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo. "The Nets also need leadership. They need more talent. Basically, they need everything."

    But Lopez is more of a solution to the Nets' problems than the cause. Good things happened when he was featured. Brooklyn won 18 of the 25 games in which the big guy put up 20-plus points.

    When he took fewer than 10 shots, the Nets went just 8-13.

    He's the youngest member of the franchise's Big Three and by far the most productive. He's also someone Brooklyn hopes to keep around, sources told Mazzeo.

    If he has finally put his foot problems behind him—he didn't miss a game after Dec. 21—he could help usher in the next era of Brooklyn basketball. The Nets know as well as anyone how good he can be. They should also understand they're in no position to lose a player of his caliber.

    Brooklyn should offer him a contract as rich as any he receives, and the spotlight would be his to savor for at least one more season. The grass isn't always greener on the other side, and Lopez could find that his current home provides more perks than any he would find on the open market.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.

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