Free agent center Brook Lopez is closing in on a three-year, $60 million deal deal to stay with the Brooklyn Nets, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and ESPN's Marc Stein. The oft-injured center will cash in after a strong finish to the 2014-15 season.
The Nets had almost no choice but to keep Lopez and Thaddeus Young, who agreed to a four-year, $50 million contract. The team would still be over the salary cap if both left and the Nets cannot rebuild next year because their draft pick goes to the Celtics. They were boxed in and had little leverage.
Lopez had a player option worth almost $17 million for the 2015/16 season but he decided to opt out after a great end of the year. For a player with his injury history, the security of a long-term contract far outweighed the opportunity to enter free agency a year from now, when the salary cap is expected to rise significantly.
Lopez has had a rocky relationship with the Nets, the team that drafted him in 2008 and signed him to a max offer in 2012. Lopez had an All-Star season the first year after his extension, but missed most of the following year and struggled early in 2014-15 before finishing strong. He was the subject of a lot of trade rumors and was nearly moved to the Thunder this February. Few players as talented as him have had such a turbulent career.
Two things have limited Lopez's ceiling in his seven-year career: his health and his rebounding numbers. There's not a lot he can do about the former, and the fact that he played 72 games and over 2,000 minutes last season could mean those injury concerns are behind him. The rebounding continues to be an issue. Even when playing next to the smaller Young, Lopez failed to corral the percentage of defensive rebounds a seven-footer is expected to grab.
While those concerns are legitimate, his offensive game is one of the most varied among big men, as he can score in the post and on short jumpers, making him a solid first or second option. He can also protect the rim at an acceptable level, even if he's not a standout on the defensive end. The key with Lopez is surrounding him with players who hide his weaknesses and allow him to showcase his strengths.
After being demoted to the bench by new coach Lionel Hollins early in the season, Lopez showed that he can still be a quality starter in the league down the stretch, averaging 20 points and nine rebounds in the first round against the Hawks. Since they can't bottom out and build through the draft, the Nets need to remain relevant. Keeping Lopez -- even if forces them to pay the luxury tax again -- is a way to do that. The Deron Williams/Joe Johnson/Lopez core is clearly not enough to contend but it's the Nets' best best to make the playoffs next season.