EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — As the New Jersey Nets opened training camp on Friday, there was a sense of déjà vu in the air. For the second straight year, Avery Johnson was forced to run his first practice in the midst of trade rumors involving his team and an All-Star looking to be relocated.
Last year, rookie Derrick Favors and point guard Devin Harris were the focus of the speculation, with the Nets looking to acquire Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets. This time, Brook Lopez is the guy in the headlines, thanks to an ESPN report that says Dwight Howard wants to be traded to the Nets.
And this rumor comes with a twist of tampering allegations.
But after practice on Friday evening, the Nets said all the right things regarding the situation.
Johnson: “We’re just focused on basketball. We’re focused on the things that we can control on the court. Hopefully, whatever is being talking about, it’ll get resolved at some point. But for me, as the coach, I’m just focusing on getting my guys ready to play for our first preseason game on the 17th.”
Lopez: “I just ignore it. I don’t read any of that stuff online or anything like that,” and “I’m here to play basketball for this team as long as I’m here. That’s my job. I’m focused on helping us improve here.”
Point guard Deron Williams: “I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff. I don’t know nothing about all that. That’s rumors and sources. We can’t be worried about that. All we can do is focus on what’s going on in here on the court, and I think that’s what we’re going to do.”
Lastly, general manager Billy King issued this statement: “Contrary to published reports, the New Jersey Nets did not meet with Dwight Howard.”
Of course, it’s Williams’ relationship with Howard that gives the Nets an angle at acquiring the Orlando big man, and essentially has Lopez answering questions about rumors.
Williams said that he spoke with Lopez before practice and didn’t seem worried about Lopez being distracted.
“He doesn’t get phased too easily,” Williams said. “I talked to him and he didn’t seem like it’s a problem. He’s ready to work.”
Even if Magic general manager Otis Smith has no intention of sending Howard to New Jersey, the Nets will have new faces in the gym over the next few days. Multiple reports on Friday had them ready to offer a four-year contract to free agent big man Nene, who could team with Lopez to form a pretty strong frontline.