When comic actor Charles Grodin (The Heartbreak Kid, Midnight Run) penned his sardonic autobiography a couple decades ago, he entitled it “It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here: My Journey Through Show Business.”
If Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez were to slap a headline on his journal entries for 2012, he could pretty much use the same thing, swapping “Nets organization” for the reference to show biz.
For the first six months or so of 2012, it looked like the best thing Lopez could do for the Nets would be to leave. Leave, that is, specifically as the centerpiece of a package of players and draft picks shipped to the Orlando Magic for All-Star Dwight Howard.
Instead, Lopez will be the Nets’ center piece for their dramatic first season in Brooklyn. Never mind that snazzy Maserati in the showroom, kids. We’re driving home in the Buick!
Lopez and still-teammate MarShon Brooks made an appearance at the Nets’ inaugural team store at the Barclays Center, and Howard Beck of the New York Times wrote about the big man’s reset button getting pushed:
Lopez is one of two Nets (along with Kris Humphries) remaining from the humiliating 2009-10 season, when they lost a franchise-record 70 games. He chuckled when it was suggested he had earned this moment.
“I’m pumped,” he said. “Throughout that whole process, everyone kept talking about Brooklyn and stuff like that, how exciting it was going to be. So I just focused on making myself a better player, helping my team in any way possible. And with all the talk I heard about Brooklyn, I knew it was just something I wanted to be part of. It was something that was going to be big.”
Yeah, well, that’s what Nets fans felt about Howard. When the dominating diva, early in his soap opera-ish final season in Orlando, cited the Nets as the one destination he would accept via trade, Lopez immediately became expendable. Chattel frankly, an asset to be moved, a salary to match up against Howard’s per NBA trade rules, a facilitator of greater days ahead for the franchise with which he had spent his first four NBA seasons.
Problem was, the Nets and the Magic failed to work out a trade by the in-season deadline. Soon after the offseason opened for business, Lopez signed a fat contract extension that rendered him untradeable until Jan. 15. That was that, as far as the Orlando option, and Howard soon enough wound up with the Lakers.
“One of the top young centers in the NBA,” Nets GM Billy King said of Lopez’s re-signing. “We have witnessed his growth as a player over the past four years and we are very pleased that he will remain in a Nets uniform as we begin our new era in Brooklyn.”
Hey, everyone can use a new set of steak knives, right? Forget the Cadillac.
The Nets need to hope now that bygones can be bygones, that Lopez reacts more like Pau Gasol than Lamar Odom and that he actually plays up to the potential he showed through the 2010-11 season.
Last season was essentially wiped out by a broken foot that limited Lopez to five games. And his meager stats, pro-rated to 36 minutes, showed 25.4 points but only 4.8 rebounds per game. That’s the category for which Lopez takes the most heat and that number is exactly half what he averaged (9.6 per 36) as a rookie. It’s been in decline ever since.
The competition figures to be plenty stiff, too. Howard is out West now, but Andrew Bynum (the Lopez of the Lakers) has relocated to Philadelphia. Samuel Dalembert moves East, joining Milwaukee. All-Stars Roy Hibbert and Al Horford are in their prime, as is the always-solid Joakim Noah.
Brooklyn’s first season could depend on Lopez staying healthy, getting better on the boards and staying as enthused about the team’s big move as he was this week. He attended the arena’s ribbing-cutting ceremony Friday, Beck wrote, and spent a fair amount of time walking around the joint. He logged overtime Monday, too, with the fans.
Lopez lingered long after the autograph session was over.
“I want to spend as much time as possible here,” he said of the arena. “This is really our home now.”
Like him or not.