It has been a long time comin’, but it looks like spring is here. Like most pigeons around Barclays Center, I’ve started sprucing up the nest, working out a little bit, and generally trying to appreciate life’s simple pleasures without the weight of winter crushing my soul.
And, at the time I sat down to peck out this column, the Brooklyn Nets were helping to buoy the optimism in ol’ Crummy’s outlook. After beating the Pacers on Tuesday, the Nets have squeaked into position to claim the final playoff spot.
Normally, I’d look at any surge by the Nets as fool’s gold, a glint of hope that only exists to make the eventual disappointment more profound. But maybe it’s the chirps of our more foppish fellow fowl each morning, or the fact that we’re starting to see the sun with some regularity, but I’m starting to believe this Brooklyn team has it in them to at least hold on to the eighth spot in the East.
“And then what?” you’re probably thinking. “The Nets make the playoffs just to get steamrolled by Atlanta in the first round?”
Well, again, normally I’d agree. But in this case there’s an actual basketball reason that gives me some hope should the Nets end up in a playoff series with the East’s best team: Brook “Big Lug” Lopez.
For the entire month of March, Lopez averaged 20.9 points, 9.1 boards and 2.1 blocks on 55 percent shooting. He was just named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. He’s hotter than my buddy Stubby’s sister Carla right now. (Stubby, if you were wondering, is one of the unfotunates who lost a foot landing on those damned bird-maiming spikes above the letters on the Futon King sign on Flatbush Avenue. How would you like it if pigeons put thumbtacks on your toilet seats?)
Anyway, the key in the context of playing Atlanta: Lopez is a legit 7-feet tall. And my bird-brain spies in Atlanta say the Hawks play great defense, but Al Horford, their main guy in the low block, only measures 6-foot-10. His partner in crime at power forward Paul Millsap is 6-foot-8 — in bird terms, they are just emus compared to our ostrich. If Brook keeps bringing it like this every night and the Nets make the playoffs, he’ll find himself with a lot of air space up top.
It’s been a rough year for Big Lug. At one point, even when he was healthy, coach Lionel Hollins was bringing him off the bench behind young’n Mason Plumlee, and implying Lopez was too soft in the press. But Hollins’ tough love appears to have paid off: Lopez hasn’t averaged more than nine rebounds a game for an entire month since 2009. (If you ask me, tough love always works: it is how I got Stubby back in the air after the surgery. Sure, his landings are painful to watch, but would you respect a pigeon who is afraid to fly?)
Looking beyond the playoffs, Lopez has a decision to make this summer about whether he opts in for the last year of his contract with the Nets, or decides to sign with another team. Whether he credits Hollins with making him a better player, or holds a grudge for the way they butted heads early on, could play a role in which way the Big Lug goes.
For the Nets, if Lopez does decide to test the waters of free agency, the decision on whether to entice the injury-prone big guy back with the promise of a longer deal will be a tough call. But if Brooklyn’s brass feels the now-27-year-old has only scratched the surface of his trajectory in this first year under Hollins, it will be hard not to pony up. Plus, the marketing opportunity when the player who is arguably your team’s best is named Brook and your team is from Brooklyn?
I don’t have a Pigeon MBA, but I’m pretty sure that’s what the industry calls a “slam dunk.”
By the way, you gonna smoke the rest of that cigarette?