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How Brook Lopez May Be Following In The Footsteps Of Another Number 11

With the trade deadline looming, some Nets fans feel that the time is now for Brooklyn to part ways with Brook Lopez. This sentiment doesn’t seem based solely on his production on the court, but more so for what could happen in terms of his health.

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Let me tell you a story about an offensively gifted center who was once a first round pick in the NBA Draft. His defense may not have been his strongest attribute, but the tradeoff was worth it for the skills provided at the opposite end of the court.

After a promising rookie season, in which he averaged roughly 13 points and 8 rebounds while playing in all 82 games, this player’s team decided to invest heavily in him with a lucrative, long-term contract. Soon after, a series of unfortunate events (in the form of multiple foot injuries and surgeries) occurred.

Does this sound familiar? Would it surprise you if I told you that this is the story of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and not Brook Lopez? Although Ilgauskas seemed to possess more athleticism earlier in his youth, the similarities in the beginnings of their respective careers are uncanny…not to mention Ilgauskas also wore the number 11!

After being selected 20th overall in the 1996 draft, Ilgauskas went on to miss his entire rookie season following surgery to repair a broken right foot. Although he returned to the court to have a successful first season in 1997, the injuries once again resurfaced to his feet and ankles. Ilgauskas missed all but 5 games during the 1998-99 season as well as the entire 99-00 campaign.

He returned for the 2000-01 season but once again an injury limited him to only 24 games. With uncertainty regarding his long-term health at the young age of 25, he underwent a major procedure to reconstruct his foot. The final tally for surgeries related to his feet…five!

We all know the story regarding Lopez and his troublesome foot. It has been the source of concern since he originally injured it during a meaningless preseason game prior to the 2011-12 season. Since then, all stakeholders of the Nets can’t help but hold their collective breath any time the seven-footer awkwardly falls to the ground.

Following last year’s catastrophic injury in Philadelphia, many thought that this moment was potentially the beginning of the end to Lopez’s career. After all, it’s been well documented that the "bigs" of the NBA don’t usually age well once a major injury has been endured to the foot.

The stories of Yao Ming and Bill Walton didn’t paint a promising picture, but the tale of Ilgauskas was a source of inspiration for Lopez’s situation. Just like the former Cavalier, Lopez underwent a very similar reconstructive surgery at the age of 25.

Ilgauskas was brought along slowly while playing reduced minutes, but ultimately was able to pick up where he left off. In fact, he was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2003 and earned a trip back two seasons later.

For the first half of the 2014-15 season, there were mixed results of Lopez being able to recapture the scoring prowess that made him one of the league’s best at his position. For every night of dominance (the win in Chicago) there was a night to forget (the scoreless performance against Indiana). Inconsistent production had left fans frustrated and clamoring for a trade.

Unfortunately, many had forgotten (myself included) the severity of his surgery and the time needed to get back into top form. It may have taken awhile, but the past few weeks have shown that Lopez may finally be getting his "footing" back. The clunkers still occur, but it seems as if there has been more good than bad as the season has progressed.

In the seven games prior to Tuesday’s loss in Memphis, Lopez had averaged 19.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks with a 54% field goal percentage – the type of play that helped earn him an All-Star selection just a few years ago.

Even with the spotty performances here and there, the Nets center’s statistics (per 36 minutes) are still on par with other seasons, which is quite remarkable considering the rust that accumulated from missing virtually an entire season and some of those dreadful (and forgettable) performances that cannot be discounted. Even his PER is hovering around 20, which is slightly below what he achieved during his most successful seasons.


























Now I am not suggesting that Lopez is the perfect NBA center, but the fact remains he is only 26 years old who has had to deal with what seems like a revolving door of head coaches during his tenure with the Nets. After a rocky start to their relationship, it finally appears that Lopez is rising to the high standards that Lionel Hollins has set forth. If the coaching carousel ever stops in Brooklyn, then maybe that continuity can help Lopez develop other facets of his game that clearly need improvement.

If you are in the camp of wanting to trade Lopez because you don’t feel his style of play works in the year 2015, then you are entitled to your opinion. It clearly is a polarizing issue amongst the fan base. Either you believe that Brook is essential for the Nets to reach the next level or you feel that he is the weight that is dragging down the team.

The notion that Lopez’s foot is a "ticking time-bomb" and the Nets have to deal him before it’s too late is one that I take issue with. With the exception of the foot sprain endured during the preseason, has the surgically repaired limb given him any issues? Has he been restricted in terms of minutes or been held out of the second half of back-to-backs? Yes, he has missed ten games overall, but eight of those were due to a fluky back injury apparently caused from lifting weights.

Of course some players are more injury prone than others, but who’s to say if and when a player will get hurt? With a future outlook looking bleak, Ilgauskas went on to average 79 games per season over the next 5 years following his drastic medical procedure. Even during the twilight of his career, he still was able to play the vast majority of his team’s games.

Lopez may carry more risk than other players, but what if his health follows in the footsteps of Ilgauskas’s and his issues are truly behind him? There is no way of ever knowing, but assuming they are, there are plenty of years remaining in what should be a productive NBA career.

The deadline may pass with Brook still in Brooklyn, and perhaps that’s a good thing. For a team that struggles to score, an efficient 15-20 points should be a welcomed presence and not something to be put on the clearance rack simply because something could happen.

After all, sometimes bombs fail to detonate.