HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Brooklyn Nets’ nightmarish season just turned darker. All-Star center Brook Lopez has a broken foot and is out for the season, according to multiple reports Saturday morning.
The 7-footer has battled a sprained left ankle all season and played in just 17 of the struggling Nets’ 26 games. But when he’s played, he’s been very good, averaging 20.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 1.8 bpg while shooting 56 percent from the floor. He played 44 minutes in Friday’s 121-120 loss at the Philadelphia 76ers, just his second game back from the ankle sprain, that dropped Brooklyn to 9-17. Still, they are amazingly just 2.5 games back of first-place Boston in the underwhelming Atlantic Division.
If that indeed is the play when Lopez broke his foot, he not only stayed in the game, but managed to play 9:53 after that. But any chance of making a move is now severely hampered. This was supposed to be a championship contender. Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov approved a payroll that will reach nearly $190 million in salary and luxury tax. Brooklyn traded for Celtics greats Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, plus Jason Terry, and signed Andrei Kirilenko. Yet, all have been injured in some form or fashion, and rookie head coach Jason Kidd has seemed to be in over his head.
More troubling than just this season’s failure to compete must be Lopez’s future. He has broken his foot multiple times and for a big man that is ominous, with Bill Walton and more recently Yao Ming being prime examples of careers cut short.
Lopez, 25, signed a $60 million deal with the Nets in July 2012 after it became clear the Nets’ long pursuit of Dwight Howard would never happen. Lopez played in all 82 games for the first three seasons of his career, but during the preseason of the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season he broke his right foot and missed the first 32 games of the season. He played in 74 games last season and was selected as a reserve to his first All-Star team.
The Nets’ hopes for this season greatly hinged on Lopez and point guard Deron Williams being healthy and performing at an elite level. But injuries have dogged both players. Williams has played in just 15 games due to ankle issues and his performances have been erratic, averaging just 12.7 ppg, his lowest scoring average since his rookie season, and 7.6 apg.
Lopez’s likely replacement in the starting lineup will be Andray Blatche with Mason Plumlee and Reggie Evans.
This Nets season was already headed toward being one of the most underachieving in NBA history, going all the way back to, well, last season’s All-Star-studded Los Angeles Lakers team that was predicted by many to challenge for 70 wins, but barely made the playoffs and was swept out in the first round.
Now, even with the state of the Atlantic Division, chances of turning this two-month nightmare into a fairy tale seems more remote than Kidd and former top assistant Lawrence Frank feasting over Christmas dinner once the Nets and the injury-crippled Chicago Bulls complete their once highly anticipated Christmas Day matchup at the Barclays Center.