When one thinks of an NBA journeyman, what comes to mind is a veteran player that has found his way around the league, playing for several teams throughout his career. Joe Smith is the perfect example. Smith played in the NBA for 16 seasons, and yet never played more than three consecutive years for the same team. That led to Smith moving around between 11 different organizations in his 16-year career (which doesn't even include his second time around with the Timberwolves or the 76ers).
The biggest move Brook Lopez has dealt with since entering the NBA has been the Nets' transition from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Although Lopez has stayed with the same team his entire career, the rollercoaster of an experience he has dealt with while with the Nets makes him a journeyman of his own kind.
The New Jersey Nets drafted Lopez with the 10th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. In his first NBA game, the rookie center came off the bench and finished with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes. Lopez would go on to win Rookie of the Month in both January and February, and finished the season averaging 13.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in only 30.5 minutes per game. He placed third in the NBA Rookie of the Year voting, trailing only Derrick Rose and OJ Mayo. Although they finished 34 - 48 and failed to make the postseason for the second straight season since the departure of the franchise's all-time great Jason Kidd, the Nets finally had a reason for hope, and it came in the shape of their 7-foot tall rookie center.
It did not take long for the Nets to crush the tiny bit of optimism fans had following the prior season. The 2009-2010 season began with 18 straight losses, setting the NBA record for most consecutive losses to start a season. Head coach Lawrence Frank was fired after loss number 16, and after two more defeats under then-assistant coach Tom Barrise, general manager Kiki Vandeweghe took over. While Vandeweghe seemed to find a little more success than Frank or Barrise, it was still a nightmare of a season. The Nets finished 12-70, tying them for the fourth-worst record in NBA history. However even though the season was a complete disaster overall, Lopez managed to take a big step forward in his development. Even though he played for three different head coaches, Lopez started all 82 games and finished the season averaging 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.
After two seasons in the NBA, Lopez had already established himself as one of the top scoring centers in the league. Not wanting to waste their center on a team with very limited talent, the Nets looked to make a blockbuster trade throughout the first half of the 2010-2011 season. For a while it looked as if New Jersey would land one of the league's top scorers in Carmelo Anthony. But in the middle of February, Anthony was traded to the Knicks, and Nets fans once again prepared for a miserable season. Then seemingly overnight, Billy King was able to swing a trade with the Utah Jazz that had All-Star point guard Deron Williams heading to the Nets. While it was too late to come back that season, things were looking up for the future of the Nets. Lopez saw his scoring average increase to 20.4 points per game in his third season, largely in part because of the pairing of him with one of the league's best point guards in Williams.
The 2011-2012 season got off to a poor start, with the lockout shortening the season to 66 games. Things got even worse for Lopez and the Nets when the big man, who had not missed a game during his first three seasons, broke his right foot during a preseason game. Now while most players are rehabbing an injury, their only concern is getting healthy again. That was not the case for Lopez. Soon after the lockout ended, Dwight Howard, at the time the top center in the NBA, demanded a trade out of Orlando. One of the three teams he wanted to go to? The New Jersey Nets.
From the start of the preseason in early December up until the trade deadline on March 15, the "Dwight Howard to New Jersey" rumor floated above the entire organization like a dark cloud. In order to obtain Howard, the Nets would obviously have to give up some key pieces. The most logical centerpiece of any deal with Orlando involved Lopez going to the Magic. So for months as he was working his way back onto the court, Lopez had to worry about being traded away from the only team he had ever played for. While Howard decided on the day of the trade deadline to stay in Orlando, things did not get better for Lopez. After missing the first 32 games of the season, Lopez finally made his return to the court. However it only took until his fifth game back to re-injure his right foot, leading to management shutting the center down for the remainder of the season.
After enduring the toughest season of his life, Lopez was faced with a very significant decision during the offseason. He was entering free agency for the first time in his career, and had to decide whether or not he wanted to make the move to Brooklyn with the Nets, or take his talents to another organization. While the team had struggled mightily since Lopez was drafted, management finally showed that they were willing to do whatever it took to put a good team on the court. First, Billy King traded for Gerald Wallace at the deadline of the 2011-2012 season. Then on July 11, 2012, Wallace was re-signed, along with Deron Williams and Lopez. On the same day, King also traded with Atlanta for shooting guard Joe Johnson. For the first time in Lopez's career, the Nets were expected to compete in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn gave Lopez a 4-year, $61 million contract extension that offseason, and in the first year of the deal, the center looked worth every penny. In his fifth NBA season, Brook averaged 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, and a career-high 2.1 blocks per game. He started in 74 games, and after Rajon Rondo tore his ACL, Lopez was named to his first All-Star Game. The season was not all smooth sailing for Brooklyn, though. On December 27, Avery Johnson was fired as head coach after the team lost 10 of 13 games. P.J. Carlesimo took over as interim head coach, becoming Lopez's fifth head coach in only five NBA seasons. The Nets would end up winning 49 games that season, the highest win total since Kidd led them to 49 wins during the 2005-2006 season. Brooklyn received the four seed in the playoffs, and lost in seven games to the Chicago Bulls in the first round. Although the team had higher expectations on the season, making the playoffs was a step in the right direction, and the most success Lopez had experienced thus far in the NBA.
During the 2013 offseason, Billy King and the Nets made several moves to try to catapult them to the top of the Eastern Conference. It started when King pulled off one of the biggest trades in Nets history. A handful of low-profile Nets players, and first round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018 (along with the right to swap picks in 2017) were shipped to Boston in exchange for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. This move represented King going all-in on the 2013-2014 season. In addition to the big trade, Brooklyn also signed former Nets legend Jason Kidd as the team's new head coach, only months after Kidd retired as a player. Free agent veterans like Andrei Kirilenko, Alan Anderson, and Shaun Livington all agreed to relatively cheap deals with Brooklyn, and for the first time since Lopez was drafted, the Nets looked like they had the roster to potentially be one of the top teams in the league.
While the Nets knew reaching the NBA Finals would be an incredibly tough feat to accomplish, they felt very confident heading into the season with Hall of Famers Pierce and Garnett now in their starting lineup, and another Hall of Famer (Kidd) calling the shots from the bench. Those feelings of optimism took a big hit on December 21 when Lopez fractured his right foot, stationing him on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. The seven-footer was off to the best offensive season of his career, averaging 20.7 points on 56.3 percent shooting from the field. The loss of Lopez was a big blow to the Nets, who would go on to lose in the Conference Semifinals to Miami, four games to one.
The next season saw another coaching change for the Nets, as Kidd, who attempted to gain control over personnel decisions, was shipped to Milwaukee in exchange for two second-round draft picks. Lionel Hollins was hired as the new head coach, and entering Lopez's seventh season with the Nets, the center was now paired with his seventh head coach. To make matters worse, two thirds of the players Brooklyn received in the Boston trade (Pierce and Terry) were no longer with the team, only a year after the deal was made.
While the Nets still had some talent on their roster, they were not expecting to compete too seriously. This became obvious halfway through the season when once again, Lopez was right in the middle of trade talks, this time between the Nets and the Thunder. Brooklyn was looking for an upgrade at point guard, and Oklahoma City was dangling Reggie Jackson in front of Billy King's face. How close were the Nets to trading Lopez? At one point the center was asked to get off the team bus because the team believed the trade was about to get done. However the Thunder backed out at the last second, and Lopez got back on the team bus, still a member of the Nets.
As if he hadn't already gone through enough with the Nets, Lopez endured yet another coaching change last season, when Hollins was fired after the team began the season 10-27 and Tony Brown took over. This change in head coach was different from the previous ones though, as Billy King was relieved of his duties as general manager on the same day. The Nets knew they were not going anywhere last year, and waived the white flag on the season early, releasing All-Star Joe Johnson on February 25. Brooklyn would go on to end the season 21-61, while Lopez finished the season averaging 20.6 points on 51.1 percent shooting, to go with 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game.
Now we finally get to this season. Lopez is entering unchartered territory as the Nets are just beginning what is sure to be a very long rebuild of the franchise. Sean Marks was brought in as the team's general manager in hopes that he can turn the team around over the next few years. No one expects a significant change overnight, something that the old management attempted to do several times. Every free agent signing over the offseason was made while thinking about the future of the team, and not so much this season. That is why you did not see Brooklyn overpaying for veteran players over the summer. And for a team that consists of mostly new faces this season, the Nets now turn to Lopez to take over as the captain and leader of the team. Not an easy feat considering almost every NBA analyst is projecting Brooklyn to be one of the league's worst teams this year.
To call Brook Lopez's experience as a member of the New Jersey / Brooklyn Nets an emotional rollercoaster would be an understatement. The man has already gone through more ups and downs in his career than a minor league baseball taxi squad, and he is only 28 years old. The hiring of Kenny Atkinson this past offseason represents Lopez's ninth head coach in as many seasons. You would be hard-pressed to find another professional athlete that has endured as many coaching changes, trade rumors, injuries, and general turmoil than Brook Lopez has since being drafted by the Nets on June 26, 2008. Yet he shows up to practice everyday with a smile on his face, happy to still be a part of the Nets franchise.
With the light at the end of the Nets' tunnel still a few years away, it would not be surprising to see Lopez traded to a contender near the deadline. While it is painful to even think about the franchise's second all-time leading scorer leaving Brooklyn, Lopez deserves a legitimate chance at winning an NBA Championship. And with the team in full rebuild-mode, Marks has to at least attempt to obtain as many assets for the future as possible. That being said, I sincerely hope Lopez remains a member of the Nets for years to come. As a fanbase that had to endure Kidd, possibly the franchise's most important player, force his way off the team not once but TWICE over a six-year span, it would be nice to see Lopez's devotion to the Nets rewarded by not trading him.
No matter what happens, Brook Lopez will always be beloved and appreciated by the Nets and its fans for his loyalty to the team.