The latest injury in a season filled with them will surely be the final nail in the Nets’ coffin, and maybe not just this season.
If you follow the Nets, you know by now: the team lost All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken right foot for the remainder of the season in an overtime loss to the division rival Philadelphia 76ers last Friday. The injury is the same type that kept him out most of the 2011-2012 season.
When the Nets mortgaged their future this offseason by trading away draft picks to bring in veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry, they saw this as a team built to win within the next two years. But with the loss of Lopez, that preseason title talk is all-but-dead, mathematically, and the two-year, win-now window is closing rapidly.
As this column has written recently, coach Kidd recognized that the Nets offense was at its best when it was filtered through Lopez. In the short term, the Nets will need to reexamine that offense. And with a 9-17 record, there isn’t much time to figure it out on the fly.
In the long term, what happens to Lopez? This will be his third surgery on his right foot. For big men of his height and weight, foot injuries can do more than linger — they can end careers. Most recently, foot and ankle injuries prematurely squashed Yao Ming’s promising ascent. Let’s hope this isn’t the case for Brooklyn’s star center, but history is certainly not on his side.
When healthy, Lopez is a top-five center in the NBA. Unfortunately, he isn’t healthy often enough. By giving Lopez a hefty max contract with no insurance just prior to last season, and by gambling on old players with their own injury concerns, the Nets have demonstrated that winning now is all that matters.
As a result, they aren’t winning now and it’s hard to see them winning in the future.
Tom Lafe is a 6-foot-5 sports-world insider with a middling high school basketball career who believes the Nets will be driven by the success of the team’s big men.