EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Brook Lopez wants to believe.
The Nets big man chose to re-sign with the team before the season, believing in the future of a franchise that already had mortgaged three years’ worth of draft picks in a failed bid at a championship. Even now, with two starters out with injuries and the Nets at 10-25, Lopez thinks they could have the clout to attract free-agent talent in the offseason.
But only, he said, if something changes soon. Yes, the arena is nice. Players will like the new practice facility that the Nets soon will open in Brooklyn, and hey, it’s New York. But . . .
“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” he said. “Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”
That’s been the challenge for the Nets this season. They enter Friday night’s game against the Magic having lost eight straight at home. Among Eastern Conference teams, only the 76ers have a worse overall record. They won’t have Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (fractured ankle) until at least the All-Star break and possibly longer, they lost point guard Jarrett Jack to season-ending knee surgery and, as a punch line, the Nets wouldn’t even gain anything by tanking. The Celtics own their first-round draft pick in 2016 and 2018 and have the option to swap in 2017 — all thanks to the 2013 trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
But with at least two more seasons with the Nets, Lopez can’t — and won’t — give up hope. Not with the possibility of about $40 million worth of cap space for next year.
“I think, for me, it’s all about potential,” he said. “The most important thing is winning. That’s the No. 1 thing. I think there are so many positives to look at as well . . . You can see it at times, we’re so competitive. We’ve got all our guys out there working and we’re a cohesive unit and when we play teams like the Warriors and Cleveland or the tops in the league, we’re right there.”
And though players such as Kevin Durant and LeBron James — both free agents this summer — seem untouchable, there are other, more feasible options. The Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan is said to be on the Nets’ radar, and multiple reports say that although DeRozan likes where he is, he plans to opt out of the last year of his contract to test the market.
Even if the Nets don’t look too formidable now, Lopez believes their personnel someday could be just as attractive as Barclays Center, and the practice facility, and the city.
“We’ve definitely seen a lot of growth in guys,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence in myself and Thad [Thaddeus Young] and then a lot of the guys stepping in. Unfortunately, Rondae got hurt, and that was tough, but he was playing great before that . . . And then we have guys like Shane [Larkin] and Weezy [Wayne Ellington] come in and play well.
“You can definitely see the potential there.”