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Brooklyn Nets face tough challenge

By Jim Brighters – NBA Editor, The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – The Brooklyn Nets are primed to trade everyone.

Brook Lopez is apparently the closest to being moved. Deron Williams could be had for almost nothing and Joe Johnson’s insane contract makes him more unmovable than a mountain range.

However, the Nets know this group is not worth keeping together, so that’s a start. This trio is set to make a combined $120.4 million over the this season and next if Lopez opts into his final year, which he will because he has bad feet.

That makes moving these three difficult. There are a lot of factors that make trading them difficult, but economics poses the biggest hurdle. Williams has an extra year on his contract past the 2015-16 season. Johnson is slated to make $24.9 million next season. Oof.

Injuries also play a role. Lopez’s dogs are as bad as it gets and inexplicably large men with bad feet don’t get better in time. Ask Yao Ming or Bill Walton.

Williams is out currently with a rib injury, but his ankles are a disaster. Multiple surgeries have robbed him of any burst.

Johnson is healthy, so that’s a glimmer of hope.

The other factor hurting the chances of moving these three overpriced former All-Stars, other than crippling contracts and frail appendages, is a decline in production.

Lopez is averaging 14.6 points per game this season and lost his starting job. Over the previous five seasons, albeit one of them lasted all of five games and another 17, Lopez averaged 19.6 ppg and now is backing up Mason Plumlee.

Williams is averaging 14.1 ppg over the last two seasons. He, too, has lost his starting job to career reserve Jarrett Jack, but even Williams’ assist numbers have fallen off a cliff. He’s under seven assists per game for the first time since his rookie season with the Utah Jazz.

And Johnson, well, Johnson still produces a little. His scoring numbers are down since joining Brooklyn, but that can be attributed to playing with more stars. Johnson is still a bit of a drag on offenses with massive amounts of dribbling and a preference for isolation. He’s like the Greta Garbo of today’s NBA, and, did I mention his contract for next season?

Williams and Johnson are both over 30. The NBA is sometimes like Hollywood for women, if you get to be that age, you’re over the hill. And especially for Williams, who has an injury file that reads longer than the Bible.

Finally, the Nets are exploring options that make sense. They have lost seven in a row to fall seven games under .500, which, to no one’s surprise, still gets Brooklyn the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Mikhail Prokhorov era of fiscal insanity appears to be nearing an end on multiple fronts. He is looking at selling the team and general manager Billy King is shopping these three salary-cap hindrances.

King has a hard sell to move Williams and Johnson. He should take pennies on the dollar, so long as the Nets don’t get any contracts longer than the backcourt’s.

Lopez is a different story and if reports are accurate, King is making a mistake.

It’s no secret new coach Lionel Hollins and Lopez haven’t click. Lopez has never been a great rebounder, especially for a center. But, if the best offer for him is Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb and some other salary-cap fodder from the Oklahoma City Thunder, just hold on to Lopez.

Yes, he has bad feet and is softer than melted fudge, but 26-year-old centers with legit back-to-the-basket skills and solid range don’t come by all the time.

If Lopez was in good favor with the coach, and freed up to do what he’s done in seasons past, his 19.6 ppg would rank him 19th in the league in scoring this season. The only true bigs ahead of him would be DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Chris Bosh.

At his age, Brooklyn needs to do better than a salary dump. That’s what Williams and Johnson are there for, but the rub is, Lopez has far greater value. They need more in a trade than backups. A move like Perkins/Lamb and someone else, absent some first-round picks, could set the organization further back.

The Nets have no one to blame for their predicament but themselves. They’ve signed players to bad, bad contracts, although, Lopez’ deal wasn’t terrible when he signed it. Foot injuries and squabbles with Hollins have taken him out of his element.

They signed Williams to this massive extension. They brought in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to make a run at a title. They hired Jason Kidd to coach with no experience.

King and his staff have to get out of it somehow. Moving Lopez for peanuts is not the solution.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

– If Lopez goes to OKC, that’s a great landing spot for him. They don’t have an interior scorer. Serge Ibaka isn’t that, but Ibaka’s presence would help Lopez tremendously. Ibaka could be the rim protector and rebounder which Lopez will never be.

– Also, with the Dion Waiters acquisition and a possible Lopez move, doesn’t it seem like the Thunder are loading up, not just for a run this season, but also for down the line … maybe, when Kevin Durant’s contract is up after next season?

– Doc Rivers put himself out there in a big way in acquiring his son Austin in a trade this week. Coaching his son at this level is a potentially treacherous path with whispers of nepotism. Plus, Austin Rivers has been a major bust. If he doesn’t resurrect his career under papa bear, the Clippers will have given up a better prospect than him in Reggie Bullock and given him to a Pacific Division rival, the Phoenix Suns, who are loaded with young talent.

– Kudos to the Boston Celtics on rebuilding 18 months after they should have. You have to say this, Danny Ainge is stock piling first-round picks like fringe survivalists hoarding canned goods in preparation for Y2K.

– The reason for all of these trades this early into the season is two-fold. First, bottom teams finally realized that burning the village to make it great is the way to go. Secondly, for those acquiring talent, they know the title race is as wide open as it’s been in years and the time to strike is now. If a team can get that title in before the cap explodes in two summers, it’s good business for them.

– Lost in the stupid nonsense of LeBron James shoving David Blatt to avoid a technical foul this week is that the gesture was probably the most in sync the two looked all season.

– Jameer Nelson has been traded twice already this season. Hope he rented in Dallas.

– Movie moment – Seven years ago, would you have believed that Sack from “Wedding Crashers,” Michael Scott from “The Office,” the psychiatrist on “Law & Order” and Jonah Hill’s girlfriend in “Superbad” would be Oscar nominees?

– TV moment – I’m big on “Pawn Stars” once again and I’d love to see, just once, a person make an offer for his or her item, and one of the workers say, “Yep, sounds fair.”

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