Brook Lopez was drafted before the 2008-09 season when the then New Jersey Nets were led by a declining Vince Carter to a 34-48 record in front of one of the lowest attended arenas in the NBA with a payroll only slightly higher than $62 million.
On Monday Lopez attended the Brooklyn Nets media day and it was like a completely different franchise. The Nets won 49 games last year and are almost certain to win more, are led by a declining Kevin Garnett, but backed up by All-Stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Andrei Kirilenko, the Barclays Center was one of the most successful arenas in the country, and the payroll is approaching $200 million.
Things have certainly changed for the Nets.
“That’s definitely one of the things I’ve been thinking this summer,” Lopez said on Monday. “Looking even further back than 18 months ago to where I was when I was drafted in Jersey. For myself there were so many unknowns going in. The next few seasons were crazy. And to go from that point to where we are now is exciting.”
At a press conference before his rookie season, Lopez talked about one of the players that he looked forward to, or better yet didn’t look forward to playing, in Kevin Garnett. Now his teammate, Lopez will look to him for guidance to take the step from a being a good center to being a truly elite player.
“I’m excited to play with KG, I’m excited to soak up everything from him, be like a sponge, and be around him,” Lopez said.
“It is surreal to look around,” he said. “I was in the weightroom and you see guys like KG, Paul, Kirilenko, and to see all of those guys working out on the same team is surreal.”
Lopez already took some big strides last season as he showed that he can be a go to guy when he averaged 23.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. On a bit of an older team, if he could step up at age 25 and be a true team leader it would go a long way in leading the Nets to where they hope to go — to NBA championship glory.
“It’s exciting, it’s definitely exciting,” Lopez said of a chance to win a title. “We obviously have to put work in on the court and really gel and get to know each other in that regard. It’s exciting to have so many good guys on and off the court that are focused on the same thing and being unselfish to work toward one goal.”
To do that improving his defense could be the most important thing. That’s where KG comes in. Last year’s Nets, with Lopez included, were a soft team, talented, but in the end they lost a game seven at home against a shorthanded Bulls team. It’s up to KG to step in and help teach Lopez how to be a tougher player, how to be more aggressive on defense, and to keep his intensity up.
Not everything is different for Lopez and the Nets though. Jason Kidd is back. He’s the head coach now rather than the exciting point guard that led the team to back-to-back NBA championship series. Kidd has brought with him Lawrence Frank, the head coach from Lopez’s rookie season, to help ease his transition to coaching.
“It was strange seeing both L. Frank and (assistant coach Roy Rogers) come back,” Lopez said. “Along with other guys it was very circular. You’ve got J-Kidd coming back. It’s great how things have worked out, it’s very exciting. It’s personally exciting to see L. Frank and J-Kidd going back and forth on the sidelines. You can tell that J Kidd likes having L Frank around and it’s making him better.”
The Nets also have a new rookie center in Mason Plumlee and as KG is mentoring Lopez and Frank is mentoring Kidd, Lopez will have to mentor Plumlee as well.
“I’m definitely excited to play with him,” Lopez said of Plumlee. “I actually played a little bit when his brother came to visit Sanford my sophomore year, he came along. We got to play a little bit and he impressed me then. He’s gotten better since then. He’s very athletics, a great motor, a high basketball IQ. It’s going to be great for him playing with all of these guys. It’s going to be a learning experience for him just like it will for me.”
• Lopez was obviously asked about his foot, which needed surgery this offseason to replace a bent screw. “My foot is great. Absolutely great. 100 percent. ”
“I wasn’t aware that I was hurt. I wouldn’t have known if we didn’t do a postseason X-Ray on the foot. It was just your typical physical stuff and we saw that the screws were a little bent there. The procedure was more preventative than anything.”
• On the Nets/Knicks rivalry: “All of that aside I think that the Nets/Knicks rivalry has been so great for New York. If you go to either of these games, myself as a player and I’m sure as a fan as well, the way that people really get into these games and embraces this rivalry, embrace their teams has been really amazing to me and its exciting. That has been one of the things I have really enjoyed grow since I’ve been here.”
• On nickname jerseys: “The nickname jerseys? I’m for them. I can’t wait to get a look at mine when it shows up. I put Brooklyn on the back so Brooklyn will be on the front and back. I couldn’t do Batman, but Brooklyn was my first choice. I wanted the team name on the front and the back.”
• On Jason Kidd: “Obviously you have to respect what he’s done in his career. He’s had such a great and illustrious career here with the Nets. He’s led teams and coached teams on the floor throughout his career. For him it’s just a matter of changing wardrobe. “