Lopez needs to play at high level for Nets
by Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK – Brooklyn Nets coach Avery Johnson was talking about practice. And he was talking about Nets center Brook Lopez.
“He’s had to raise the level of his practice habits because of the competition,” Johnson said, referring to 2012-13 Nets additions Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche.
It was a polite, non-inflammatory way of saying Lopez’s practice habits in previous seasons were not what the Nets sought.
“We want him to be a presence inside,” Johnson said.
Specifically, the Nets want Lopez to rebound more and defend better. He can score – he has averaged 17.4 points per game in his four-year plus career, including 17.5 this season. But defensive rebounding and protecting the rim are not his strengths.
But, this is more than just getting a guy to step up. Lopez was signed to a four-year, $60.8 million deal in July when the Nets decided to ditch their effort to acquire All-Star center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic.
So it’s understandable the team needs him to average a double-double in points and rebounds.
The Nets anchored Lopez in the frontcourt and put All-Star guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson on the perimeter – a nucleus the Nets believe can lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.
“Obviously, I’m very happy with the situation,” said Lopez, who no longer has to wonder if this is the day he is traded. “This is where I wanted to be. For me, it worked out the best way possible.”
Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov is thinking even bigger, telling news reporters at the Nets’ season opener at Barclays Center that a successful season means an appearance in the conference finals.
Not only are expectations big for the Nets, they are big for Lopez, too. To help Lopez develop into the kind of player they want him to be, Brooklyn signed Evans and Blatche. Evans has All-Star aspirations. Not for himself, but for Lopez, and he takes his mission seriously.
“I’ve been telling Lopez I can’t settle for nothing less but the All-Star game for him this season,” Evans said. “I make practice tougher … [For more on Lopez needs to produce to a high level for Brooklyn, click here.]