If there was a saving grace for Brook Lopez when years of trade rumors finally came to fruition and his nine-season career with the Nets ended recently, it was that the No. 11 Lakers jersey he donned at an introductory news conference on Wednesday represented the team he cheered for as a kid.
“I was surprised,” Lopez said of the deal that sent him and the Nets’ No. 27 pick in the NBA Draft to the Lakers for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov. “I was talking to Rob [Lakers GM Pelinka], and I said it was kind of like draft night all over again. It’s a mix of emotions, a whirlwind, you’re being whipped around. You’re just trying to find your ground.
“But once I was settled, I think a lot of those emotions just turned into general excitement at this opportunity to come back home and play for a team I grew up cheering for and help lead this franchise back to success. I just want to be out there, teaching the young guys and helping them do whatever I can.”
Lopez and twin brother Robin, who plays for the Bulls, were born in the North Hollywood section of Los Angeles and later moved to Fresno in northern California, where they continued to root for the Lakers. Apparently, it didn’t take the Nets’ all-time leading scorer long to get over the shock of finally being traded.
“We feel very strongly that he’s worth every dollar he negotiated to play this season,” Pelinka said of Lopez, who is scheduled to make $22.6 million in the final year of his contract. “I think he backs it with his actions. To his credit, he was here very quickly in the gym working out with the young players sweating and already being an example.”
Lopez displayed his playful sense of humor when he was asked about being dunked on last season by Laker Larry Nance Jr. and again later when the subject of his injury history came up and he spoke about the minutes restrictions he operated under last season with the Nets.
Asked if he felt Nance was snubbed for “dunk of the year,” Lopez laughed. “It was impressive,” he said. “I think I got a better view of it than anyone. When he introduced himself, I told him there was no introduction necessary. But yeah, I would vote for that as dunk of the year. At least, I get to be part of it then.”
Discussing his injuries and how he adjusted after missing parts of three straight seasons, Lopez spoke of how he adjusted his training regimen. At the same time, he found it difficult to sit out games last season when he was healthy as a part of the Nets’ performance team’s determination to keep him healthy.
“I wouldn’t say I need a minutes restriction or anything like that, but understanding playing loads, I’m happy to play however much Luke wants me to play,” Lopez said of Lakers coach Luke Walton. “If Luke wants me to play 48 minutes, ‘Thank you, Luke. I’m down with that for sure.’
“That being said, it is about taking care of my body, getting in the cold tub, getting in the weight room, doing the things to take care of yourself. That’s another thing I can impart to the young guys.”
As the Nets’ senior leader last season, Lopez learned to embrace a more vocal leadership style and he said he intends to do the same with a young Lakers team. He also plans to build on the three-point shooting success he enjoyed last season, and he credited Nets coach Kenny Atkinson for helping him expand his game.
“I have to say Kenny gave me a chance to shoot the three,” Lopez said. “I’m glad he had the confidence in me. I’ve always felt I can do it, and that’s something I’m going to be doing here to help the team.
“It’s something that had been part of my offseason workout regime for five or six seasons. It was just part of Kenny Atkinson’s system. When he first got there, he said he really wanted to open the floor up a lot and have shooters at every position. I took his system and understood what he wanted to do. The key was that I got in the gym and I put the work into it.”
Pelinka added that Lopez is exactly the kind of player who can set a good example for the Lakers’ organization.