For as long as the Dwight Howard, Nets rumors had life in them, the one constant name that kept popping up every time we thought the trade would go down was that of Brook Lopez.
A player they so desperately wanted to move for the sake of making a splash in Brooklyn, Lopez has improved his play on both ends of the court, proving to be key to the team's incredible start in their first season since moving across the river.
I don't think — it hasn't been enough. Honestly, I feel more animosity toward the Heat and the Celtics than I do the Nets.
- Tyson Chandler, Knicks center
It's no secret that his presence in the lineup has been sorely missed ever since he sprained his right foot after driving to the basket during a play on Nov. 28 at Boston.
What was supposed to be a two-game stay on the sideline while his right foot healed has become a two-week stay on the injury list for Lopez. The Nets and Lopez were lucky that the injury wasn't in the same area were he'd fractured his right foot previously.
The only positive news since the Nets recent stumble is that Lopez was able to practice this Tuesday but was held out of the Nets big game against the Knicks. There could be a chance that he returns Friday night at the Barclays Center against Detroit or Saturday in Chicago, but that's not a given. After all, the Nets did say he was going to miss just two games so who's to say when he will really be back.
Lopez's absence on the court has been the major reason why the Nets have lost five of their last seven games, including five straight before pulling out a 'W,' something they did by leaving the country and beating a Toronto team that was missing two starters.
The 7-footer's 18.5 points per game lead the Nets as he's asserted himself as a force, featured in the team's offense to get it going early in the game, setting the tone as the Nets jumped out to a 10-4 record. His play inside the paint on the defensive side of the ball has vastly improved although there's no reason why he shouldn't be a better rebounder.
While Deron Williams and the rest of the team have tried not to get too discouraged during the losing skid it was very noticeable that they were hurting without Lopez. Instead of taking of the game as a unit they've simply fallen apart at times, coming out with no energy.
With Lopez, the Nets allowed just 90.7 points per game. Without him they've given up 99.9 points per game.
His shoes are pretty big to fill and the Nets front court has done a collective effort to fill in the gap while Lopez's foot heals properly. Andray Batche has done a nice job in Lopez's absence, averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds a game, but it's created a hole in the team's production off the bench. Reggie Evans isn't anywhere near the scorer Lopez is and Kris Humphrie's play (just compare his points per game and rebounds per game this season to last) has regressed so far in the first quarter of the season's schedule.
You can't blame the Nets for keeping Lopez out for so long as they're being really cautious with the latest foot injury. At the end of the day he's their $60 million investment and a critical component of everything Avery Johnson and the Nets are trying to accomplish in Brooklyn.
It's a long season and somehow they will have to learn how to survive without their big man in the post.