The next time the Nets play at home will be March 2. They'll be on the road for two significant dates that could go a long way toward determining their short and long term success. February 19 is the trade deadline. March 1 is the date by which a player must be waived or bought out so he can be signed by another team and still be eligible for the playoffs. The two deadlines are more likely to affect the team's front court, with Brook Lopez the easiest of the Big Three to move --if they want to-- and Kevin Garnett the subject of buyout and trade rumors.
So with the injury to Mirza Teletovic, trade talks, buyout rumors and a certain Chinese Basketball Association refugee still out there, the Nets frontcourt could look very different in the near future.
By most measures and indications, Brook Lopez is having a pretty good season. His PER is currently sitting at 20.1 and even though his 15.6 point average is well below his career average of 17.8, his 50.3 field goal percentage is still on par with career averages and his career low 27.4 minutes per game may explain the lowered offensive production. He began the season as a starter, missed eight games due to injury, came back strictly as a bench player and is now caught somewhere in starter-bench player limbo, mostly coming off the bench, but filling in when Kevin Garnett. Further making his role with the team murkier is his presence on on the trading block where he's been for most of the season ... and seemingly most of his career.
Then there's Garnett. No one in their right mind would question his dedication to the team, but his production has consistently and rapidly declined as the season has worn on. He started the season averaging 7.2 ppg and 8.4 rpg, which is pretty impressive for a near 40-year-old, but those numbers declined to 7.7/6.9 in December and 5.1/5.2 in January before jumping up to 8.3 and 8.0 in February. His minutes have also decreased from 24.2 per game in November to 20.6 in December and 17.4 in January and 17.0 so far in February. in the two recent games against Toronto and its athletic front court, he played a total of 22 minutes. Garnett's diminishing returns may not end up mattering to the Nets as rumors of a potential buyout and even a trade started to materialize this week
Essentially, if KG wants to leave, it will be his decision. A trade might be difficult. He makes $12 million and the Nets would no doubt have to take on more salary beyond this season. Moreover, he still has a no-trade clause in his contract and can veto any destination. Its always possible the Nets could decline a buyout if he wants to play for an Eastern Conference rival, particularly one that's battling the Nets for playoff position.
Making things more unclear are the blood clots found in Teletovic's lungs. He was certainly having an off year offensively, but the veteran still played the game intelligently, avoided turning the ball over and simply was a healthy body the Nets could count on. Now, Teletovic is lost for the season.
With Teletovic out for the year and Garnett's minutes dwindling, the Nets have looked to Lopez and Mason Plumlee as their predominate frontcourt combination. In theory the combination makes sense considering those two are Brooklyn's best bigs, but the pair is not nearly as successful in practice.
No matter how you slice the stats, it doesn't work that well. In the 244 minutes in which Lopez and Plumlee shared the floor through the end of January, the Nets are minus-80. In their two impressive wins last week, against the Clippers and Raptors, Nets worst 2-man lineup was Lopez and Plumlee, who were -18 in 26 minutes. Offensively, they were. 91.7 points per 100 in those two games and 121.5 points allowed. Of course, they did win both those games. (One very interesting stat: In the Nets wins over winning teams, Lopez is averaging 20 ppg.)
Of course, both bigs are post players, so they tend to get in each other's way and clog the lane for others trying to drive to the basket. Lopez has recently expanded his perimeter game to keep the paint open, but he possesses one of the best offensive post games in the league. Keeping Lopez on the perimeter is like owning a Lamborghini but sticking to the speed limit. Lopez's strengths simply aren't being utilized when he shares the floor with Plumlee.
A potential remedy for all this uncertainty is the possible return of Andray Blatche. Now 28, Blatche averaged 31.1 ppg, 14.9 ppg and 5.0 apg while playing for the Xingjiang Flying Tigers in China this season and 10.7 PPG and 5.2 RPG in two seasons with the Nets. However, the Nets let Blatche walk in the offseason not so much because of his performance on the hardwood, but for immature and unprofessional behavior on and off the court. So they may not want to take the risk and deal with his personality again. What's telling is that in the week since he became a free agent, there's been little to no buzz about him playing for any NBA team this season. The Nets have one big advantage if they want him back: they hold his Early Bird rights and can pay him more than almost anyone.
So, with trade and buyout rumors still in the air, the Nets could see themselves without Garnett and Lopez the next time they play in Brooklyn ... and are already without Teletovic for the rest of the season. Depending on who they get in a trade or free agency if any of those moves are actually made, the Nets front court may look very different than it did at the start of the season.
- Possible Destinations for Kevin Garnett in the Event of a Buyout - Derek James - Hardwood Paroxysm