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Is The Stretch-5 Brook Lopez An Answer For The Raptors?

There doesn’t appear to be much of a market for the 28-year-old Brook Lopez, but this new stretch-5 version of the Nets center deserves a second look and the Toronto Raptors should be asking if he is the answer to their need for another big man capable of impacting today’s game?

Once upon a time not so long ago Lopez was an NBA All-Star, one of the top scoring centers in the entire league and top-10 at blocking shots, but that year was sandwiched in-between a couple of injury shortened seasons and Lopez really still hasn’t fully recovered his reputation, even though he’s played over 70 games in each of the past two seasons and has only missed three games this year.

This season Lopez is averaging 20.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.7 blocks. His assists are up nicely and his rebounds are down, but part of that is from hanging out more on the perimeter where he is firing 5.2 three-point attempts and connecting on 36.4 percent of them. On corner threes his average jumps to 45.8 percent. He is one the best shooting stretch-5 true centers in the NBA this year and he gets blocks too.

It been suggested by ESPN’s Marc Stein that all Brooklyn wants is a couple of first round draft picks in return for Lopez. The Nets (foolishly) traded their future to the Celtics for a chance at becoming a contender that never happened and now they don’t even have the assets to rebuild. Not that any NBA team feels the need to bail them out of this mess of their own making, but to poach an asset for cheap? A GM has to listen.

Part of the problem is Lopez makes $21.1 million this year and $22.6 million next year, but unlike so many of the other potential impact players being talked about (Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka), at least he is not just a rental.

Unfortunately his contract means most teams will have to send back at least $16.1 million in salaries and it isn’t likely the players going back would all be on expiring contracts and of limited value. This will become something resembling a real trade if the Nets can get two first round draft picks out of it as well. At least a GM knows the Nets interest is sincere. The Nets, unlike the Hawks, really are playing for nothing. The need to tear down and rebuild right now is very real.

But how would Lopez fit on the Raptors with Jonas Valanciunas entrenched at starting center and Lucas Nogueira doing a respectable job backing him up. Well the Raptors have been unexpectedly experimenting with Nogueira playing along side of Valanciunas in order to provide some needed shot blocking, speed and athleticism and it seems to be working. The two big men provide an effective paint deterrent and a difficult match-up for opposing teams. This gives head coach Dwane Casey options.

Casey could look to splitting the minutes at center between Valanciunas and Lopez depending on the match-up. A traditional rebounding center in Valanciunas and a stretch-5 in Lopez who would finally give the Raptors an effective countermove when the Cavaliers go small with the 6’11 Channing Frye stretching the floor. Nogueira and Patrick Patterson splitting the minutes at power forward would give the Raptors a rotation of four big men, two of whom can stretch the floor, that few teams could match.

If Raptors president Masai Ujiri believes Lopez has made the leap to becoming a stretch-5 and that’s the missing piece in his team’s rotation, this is a deal that needs pursuing. The Raptors need more offense to contend.

It would take a combination of Terrence Ross ($10 million), Jared Sullinger ($5.6 million) and one of Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam or Fred VanVleet to make the trade math work. Undoubtedly, which young player gets thrown in would determine how many draft picks Ujiri might part with. Like with any trade Ujiri has gotten involved with, if the price got too steep, he would walk away.

There are few players that are truly plausible trade targets where the team with the star has to take virtually anything that’s remotely reasonable, but the Nets are that team. It’s a team in a situation Ujiri has been able to bend to his advantage in the past.

Rumors are beginning to surface that the Nets are considering parting ways with their franchise cornerstone in Lopez, and Lopez (fantasy) owners should be rooting for that outcome. He’s skilled enough to have solid value regardless of his uniform – Rotoworld Jan 8 – 3:34 PM.

Lopez scoring 20 points per game is nothing new and aren’t skilled big men that can shoot the prized possessions in today’s high scoring NBA?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.