HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — At the end of the day, the Brooklyn Nets were going to have a top-10 center. Either they were trading for Dwight Howard or re-signing Brook Lopez.
It will be the latter, because the Nets are done talking with the Orlando Magic about a possible trade for Howard, according to multiple reports. And according to our David Aldridge, the Nets reached a deal with Lopez on a new four-year, $60.8 million contract.
“In talks to this point, there’s probably not a whole lot there,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said of talks with the Nets at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
The Nets needed some sort of resolution on the Howard talks by Wednesday, because other teams had interest in Lopez. And if the Nets weren’t getting Howard, they had to hold onto their own seven-footer.
The Nets have been pursuing Howard since the lockout ended last December, hoping to team him with Deron Williams. They’ve seemingly been close to acquiring the three-time DPOY on a couple of occasions, and they could have signed him as a free agent today if Howard hadn’t waived his early termination option back in March, a decision he clearly regrets at this point.
Lopez was the centerpiece of any potential deal Brooklyn wanted to make with the Magic for Howard, the All-Star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year who wants out of Orlando. The Magic have committed to dealing Howard rather than replaying the soap opera that they were subject to last season, which ended with Howard opting into the final year of his contract, the team firing Coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith and hiring Oklahoma City executive Rob Hennigan as the new GM. But in a news conference Wednesday, Hennigan said that none of the current offers on the table for Howard were good enough for the Magic to accept–though he stopped short of saying trade talks were officially dead.
The Nets had offered several packages for Howard, including Lopez and several future first-round Draft picks. Brooklyn has consistently tried to include other teams in potential deals, including Portland and Cleveland, the latter part of a four-team proposal this week also reportedly involving the Clippers. But that proposal never came close to fruition. Brooklyn tried to include new teams in the deal, and the Magic looked into potential deals with the Rockets and Lakers. In one potential deal, according to the basketball website HoopsWorld, the Lakers would receive Howard, and the Rockets would get Lakers center Andrew Bynum, with the Magic getting several Draft picks from the Rockets.
Brooklyn gave Lopez a new contract after it became evident that the Charlotte Bobcats would be giving Lopez an offer sheet, according to a source directly involved in the discussions. The new deal kept the Nets from having to match an offer sheet and got Lopez the payday he was seeking. The move was similar to that done by the Pacers earlier this month when they agreed to terms with center Roy Hibbert on a four-year, $58 million deal. Hibbert had gotten a commitment from the Portland Trail Blazers for an offer sheet for the same amount.
When the Magic held their celebratory press conference on March 15 to announce that decision, the Nets looked like the big losers in the deal. They had a bad team and they seemingly had little to convince Williams to stay.
The difference between then and now is night and day. Williams has signed long-term and the Nets are heading to Brooklyn with a much better squad. They’ve added Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson, and are set to add power forwards Reggie Evans and Mirza Teletovic, a shooter who averaged 22 points per game in the Euroleague last season.
Whether or not they landed Howard, the Nets were returning to relevance after five years of struggles.
Just as important as any of the additions is Lopez’s return to health. He played just five games last season, dealing with a fractured foot. He obviously needs to rebound better than he did in his third year, but he’s just 24 years old, has averaged 20 points per game over the last three seasons, and has acted as professionally as one could through seven months of rumors.
So the Nets move on without Howard, and with a little more depth than they would have had if a trade went through. They keep second-year guard (and likely sixth man) MarShon Brooks, and they retain the bird rights to power forward Kris Humphries.
A big four of Williams, Johnson, Wallace and Howard could have contended for a title. And the Nets probably aren’t threatening the Miami Heat with what they have left. But a starting lineup of Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Humphries and Lopez still has a good chance to compete for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
Just how good the Nets can be is up in the air, because, in his 15 months with the Nets, Williams has played just 17 games with Lopez and 12 games with Wallace. And he’s never played with Johnson. This team shouldn’t have much trouble scoring, and their ceiling will be determined by how well they defend.
Of course, the Nets aren’t completely out of the Howard picture at this point. Once Lopez signs his new contract, he can’t be traded until Jan. 15. But if Howard is still in Orlando at that point, we may go through this Dwightmare one more time.
Until then, the Nets can concentrate on building with what they have. And they ought to be pretty good.
— TNT analyst David Aldridge contributed to this blog.