Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
By RACHEL MARCUSSpecial to ZAGSBLOGBROOKLYN – Avery Johnson immediately deflected the question away from Brook Lopez.
The Brooklyn Nets head coach didn’t want Lopez, the team’s newly re-signed center, to respond to a question about what could happen when January rolls around and Lopez is a part of trade rumors involving Dwight Howard again.
“Whenever a free agent signs a contract, I don’t think the possibility of you being traded in January ever comes up,” Johnson said at a press conference for Lopez on Wednesday in Brooklyn. “That would be a first for me, and I’ve been in the league over 20 years.”
The fact of the matter is the Nets don’t have Howard, they have Lopez, and they’re just fine with him manning the center position.
Though Lopez missed most of last season with a broken right foot, Johnson still considers him a top-five center in the NBA. With the Nets roster finally taking shape, Lopez figures to be a key cog for Brooklyn.
“I’m so happy that I’m still a Net,” Lopez said. “It’s what I’ve wanted this entire offseason through the whole free agency process. I just want to be a Net my entire career.”
The Nets grabbed Lopez 10th overall in the 2008 NBA Draft. He has averaged 17.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game since, but he played in only five games in the 2011-2012 season.
This offseason, amid the trade and free agency rumors and speculation, Lopez has worked on getting healthy and says he is getting closer to 100 percent.
“He’s stronger than he has ever been,” Johnson said, adding that Lopez will be in the Nets’ lineup opening night at the Barclays Center.
Alongside the fifth-year center will be players Lopez and others have dubbed the “best backcourt in the league” in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The Nets officially re-signed Williams on July 11 and agreed to trade for Johnson on July 2. Brooklyn also re-signed Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace this offseason to round out the starting lineup.
But even with everyone in the fold, Johnson isn’t ready to make any proclamations yet regarding just how good the Nets can be.
“We understand there’s a lot of work ahead of us now,” Johnson said. “Just because we look good on paper, we’ve got to make it become a reality. But we haven’t looked this good on paper in a long time so I’m excited about it.”
For now, Lopez can focus on preparing for the upcoming season without Howard on his mind. He never really put too much thought into the Howard rumors anyway.
“I keep to myself mostly,” Lopez said. “I read a lot of books and comic books and they don’t mention Dwight Howard too much.”
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