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Without Brook Lopez, it’s a new chapter for the Brooklyn Nets

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From New Jersey to Brooklyn. East Rutherford to Newark to Brooklyn. Brook Lopez’s loyalty shouldn’t go unnoticed

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It finally happened. No more “Big Disney” jokes. No more goofing around with his brother, Robin. No more “you know’s” in interviews. No more posing with kids half his size on any court on any continent. No, no more loyalty either. It’s a business. And no one knew that better than Brook Lopez.

After nine seasons with the team and countless trade rumors, Brook Lopez has finally been traded. He had nine different coaches, three GM’s. He played in two states, three cities, three arenas and two practice facilities. He was an All-Star once and underwent three or four foot surgeries. The day had to eventually come.

Most notably, he’s been the rumored centerpiece in Nets deals for Dwight Howard and Reggie Jackson. There were others. Once, he was told to get off the team bus that was headed to the airport. He called a friend back in New York, told him to go to his apartment and back some things. He was headed to Oklahoma City. Then, he was told get back on the bus. Now, he’s finally off the bus. He remained loyal through it all.

It was fitting that it came now. In April, he became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. The record sits, in his name, at 10,444 points.

For a lot of Nets fans, the team has been always Brook, forever Brook. In the midst of turmoil, moves, coach firings and hirings, he was there, at the ready. It’s been a long ride.

Brook Lopez was selected by the New Jersey Nets with the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft. The Nets were set to undergo a rebuild and the pick gave the Nets a promising big for the future. It almost didn’t happen. Michael Jordan, then GM of the Hornets, wanted to take him at No. 9, but Larry Brown convinced MJ that he needed a point guard. So they reneged, took D.J. Augustin, and Rod Thorn made the call. Lopez remembers his reaction.

“My agent at the time, Bob Meyers, was like 'Okay, Brook, B.J. just told me M.J. just called, they're taking you!'“, Lopez recalled in an interview with Chris Mannix near the end of this season, his last big one. “I went, 'alright good, okay, I'm good. Charlotte, we can make that work, that's great!'

“So they start, 'with the ninth pick in the draft,' i start buttoning it, standing up, and it's 'D.J. Augustin.' And I'm like, 'Whoa.' At that point, i was pretty messed up. I was like 'Wow, this is crazy' but the Nets situation has worked out pretty well for me, all in all, you know.”

Lopez’s first reaction, sitting at MSG with his brother, “Who’s their coach?” It was Lawrence Frank, but that question became a metaphor for Lopez’s career. Who’s their coach. He went through nine. In case you forgot, that would be Frank, Tom Barrise, Kiki Vandeweghe, Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, Tony Brown and finally, Kenny Atkinson. Of all of them, Atkinson probably liked Lopez the most.

“I don't know if any style was a bigger adjustment for me. I think in my way I'm blessed to be under so many different coaches seeing how their minds work, in how they saw the game. I think all that collectively helped make me a better player,” he told Mannix, always the good soldier.

So he gets to New Jersey and it’s culture shock.

“For me, it was like moving to another country, it was going to China or something like that, honestly. So different from being out west. The weather, the winter, but even smaller things. They have these jughandle turns out in New Jersey. You have to go right to go left. That messed me up so bad!”

In 2009-2010, Lopez and the Nets finished with the second worst record in the NBA history at 12-70.

“(12-70) was very difficult for me. So much different from this year. This year, we can see our growth through the entire season. Then, it never felt that way once in that entire season at all. It was tough. We had a lot of young guys on our team. CDR (Chris Douglas-Roberts) and myself, we were used to success at the college level, at the high school level, pretty much all through basketball.

“So to come into this situation and see and obviously play in these games and see everything that was going on, it was tough for us. We were winners, we were competitors. So it was difficult transition.”

They won 24 games the following year and then 22 games in the 66-game shortened season. Lopez had played just five games that year after hurting his foot that required season-ending foot surgery. He hadn’t missed a quarter in his first three years. Now, Lopez and “foot” were synonymous. Mannix asked him about the effect.

“The first time. It just happened and I was disappointed. It was tough. But I worked my way back and I figured, 'Once I'm back, I'm good.' I had partially torn a meniscus before and I had a chipped disc in college, a back injury. So I had been through stuff before. I figured it would like this stuff before. It would be rehab and I'd be back on the floor before. When it began continuously happening, that was difficult.”

How difficult?

“I did get down. I did. It was tough. I'd be bedridden in my room for the longest time just thinking about everything. And you really have to do is time to think. The one thing I really took away from it was just blessed I am to be on the court, and how much i enjoyed being on the court playing with my teammates ...

“I did text my agent, did text my doctor, asking what I can I do to help myself get better quicker and if I did feel something, I would immediately hit myself up immediately. We have the best doctors in the world taking care of us over here.”

The Nets were never really a powerhouse with Brook at the helm, although it was never the plan for him to be the No.1 option. That was for D-Will. He was a fan-favorite and good offensive center, but in nine seasons he only saw the playoffs three times. One of the three times he was out with the same foot injury from 2011-2012. The foot injury was always an issue. He bent the screw in his right foot in the playoff series in Brooklyn. The following season he got hurt again.

He admitted that at more than one juncture, he thought it was over.

“Yeah, that's something I thought about a lot,” he told Mannix. “I'd be thinking, 'you know, if I keep re-injuring myself, I'm at the point, where I'm like 'if this foot turns to powder, i'm playing on this foot.' That was the point I was at. I wanted to get back on the court so bad, try to show people I could do.”

There was the hope in the 2013 season that the Nets would finally break out of their mediocrity. They traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They already had Joe Johnson. They brought in Andrei Kirilenko and handed Deron Williams the keys to the kingdom. Jason Kidd became the coach. It didn’t work, but Lopez, always the optimist, took away positives.

“I think I just learned so much. I was still the young guy on the team so going out on the court at the beginning of the game to play with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron WIlliams and Joe Johnson ... I mean that’s just, ‘Shoot.’ You grow up dreaming about stuff like that and so, being on a team with that level of talent in the starting lineup alone, I grew so much in that one season. I learned so much.”

Of course, he spent most of it on the bench and in rehab again.

“I wish I had been healthy that initial season. There’s a lot (pause) alternate realities out there. It could have gone this way, it could have gone that way, but it was a great group.”

Then, as the Nets ownership and management began to break up the team, there were the rumors that he was gone, too. At the deadline in 2015, Billy King’s last, he tried to trade Lopez to Oklahoma City in a three or four team deal that would have netted Brooklyn Reggie Jackson. Luckily for King’s already tattered reputation, it didn’t go down. Jackson went to Detroit, which regrets the deal.

Lopez had just signed a new deal. He was a bit tired of the constant rumors. But he remained loyal.

“When Ticket (Garnett) got traded, that was the same year that the OKC rumors kept coming through,” he said. “Hearing those OKC rumors, I weighed those in my mind. I was at a point where I was going to do my thing here, but if it happened, I’m prepared to do what I need to in that situation in OKC as well.”

And he made it known, enough with the trade rumors.

“I just let them know that I’m focused on being here ... and building something special here,” he told Mannix.

He came back stronger, perhaps better than ever from his foot injury. He always found a way to evolve his offensive game, most recently his three ball, something his last coach on the Nets asked him to try. He enjoyed his new role as the elder statesman of a young team. He encouraged them all.

“The group of guys we have, never shown a sign of quit, fighting every night. I don’t know. Maybe it’s this group of young guys, inexperienced guys from across the league who haven’t really had that chance and are coming here and look, this is our chance, our opportunity to show these guys around the league what we can do and we can be special together. But our biggest strength is in each other.

“I’ve tried to be much more of a leader, much more vocal on the floor as well. I think J-Lin and I have both done a pretty job in doing that.”

Mannix also asked Lopez about his desire to stay with Brooklyn, stay in black-and-white till he retires.

“Whenever that happens, I hope it’s as a Brooklyn Net. I want people when they hear the name ‘Brook Lopez’, I want them to think of one of the guys who helped build something special in Brooklyn. create a winning franchise where people want to play, want to come, want to be part of something successful.”

It was not to be. But he will be “one of those guys” in the minds of a lot of fans.

He never once asked for a trade, and he always said the right thing. He always took responsibility, never ran out on the media, never deferred blame. He was an organizational guy, a professional and a good teammate. He didn’t get in trouble and up until recently, he stayed private on all social media accounts.

He enthusiastically bought into Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks’ system and culture despite the current circumstances. He knew anything could happen at any time and he still acted as a leader and set the tone.

He finished 264-458 with the team, averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. He’s also the longest tenured Net, the highest scoring Net in history. And he gave us one last shining moment to remember him by.

So there’s that but he was so much more.

His final coach as a Net, the one who perhaps appreciated him the most, was asked about his contributions just before the trade deadline, when everyone knew ya never know with Brook. it could be the last time to comment about his tenure.

“This franchise means a lot to him. He’s been here a long time and I know that it’s been difficult for him, but rarely have I seen any signs of him with real outward frustration. He’s been a positive influence on the coaches, on the team, so I’m just thrilled with his spirit and how he’s represented himself; how he’s helping our young guys,” Atkinson told the media.

“And, I’ve been impressed with his play. I’ve said this a bunch of times, but he’s a better player than I thought he was and I thought he was pretty darn good when we played him in the playoffs a couple years ago. His skill level, his IQ, and I think he’s making progress defensively. He’s obviously an elite offensive player in this league but I think he’s a better defender than we give him credit for. I’m proud of the way he’s handled himself and I really enjoy working with him on a daily basis.”

In some ways, Brook Lopez proved that loyalty still exists in sports. NBA players on average spend 2.21 seasons with one team. This statistic alone speaks for what loyalty means in basketball and sports in general, and how hard character guys like Lopez are to come by.

It’ll be different watching and covering games. The locker room will no longer echo with his boisterous presence. His funky style of play, that almost perfectly fit his funny personality, is going to LA-LA Land. There will come a time when No. 11 will be raised to the rafters at Barclays. It will be bittersweet, but Brook Lopez will find a way to make it self-deprecating and take a slap at Robin.

Farewell, ya big goof.