With two home games left before the All-Star break, the Nets faced 40-year-old former star Vince Carter of the Grizzlies on Monday night at Barclays Center two days before the scheduled arrival of Jason Kidd, Carter’s teammate from the two-time Eastern Conference champion Nets and the current coach of the Bucks. But the big question hovering over the franchise is whether franchise center Brook Lopez might join that list of ex-Nets by the NBA trade deadline Feb. 23.
Monday began with Lopez mentioned prominently in another trade report involving negotiations between the Nets and New Orleans. Whether it was trade deadline stress or the difficulty of facing center Marc Gasol, Lopez struggled early, and so did the rest of the Nets as they fell to the Grizzlies, 112-103, for their 13th straight loss.
Lopez previously laughed off trade rumors, but the Pelicans might have shifted their focus from the 76ers’ Jahlil Okafor to target Lopez more seriously. Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders reported Monday that the Pelicans now are offering Tyreke Evans (an unrestricted free agent), Langston Galloway, Tim Frazier and a protected 2018 first-round draft pick for Lopez. The Nets reportedly are asking for two first-round draft choices for him.
Asked about the latest trade report after Monday night’s game, Lopez told Newsday he had not seen it and had heard nothing from either his agent or Nets general manager Sean Marks.
Lopez has endured tough times in his nine seasons, but the Nets have by far the worst record in the NBA at 9-46, and their loss to the Grizzlies was a franchise-record 15th straight at home. Given that the Nets were 3-2 in their first five home games, the current slide borders on the inexplicable.
“We’ve been close,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I feel like we’re playing better, and it just hasn’t happened. Of course it’s frustrating for coaches, players and fans. We’re getting closer, but we haven’t been able to make the plays and get the stops we need to bust through.”
The Nets again dug themselves an early hole and trailed by 10 at halftime as Lopez scored two points on 1-for-8 shooting. That deficit grew to 15 in the third quarter, but Lopez got going with 13 points in the period as the Nets rallied back within five early in the fourth.
The Grizzlies pushed their lead back to a high of 16 points, but the Nets caught a break when an air ball by Lopez was caught by Carter short of the rim. That goaltending call helped spark a 13-4 Nets run that included a four-point play by Spencer Dinwiddie and cut the deficit to 99-92. Memphis guard Mike Conley Jr. then scored nine straight points to end the Nets’ comeback hopes.
Conley led Memphis (34-23) with 32 points. Gasol had 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Brandan Wright added 17 points and Carter had 14.
Six players scored in double figures for the Nets, topped by 17 each from Lopez and Dinwiddie and 15 from Sean Kilpatrick.
“Conley really gave us a lot of issues with the pick-and-roll,” Atkinson said of the fourth-quarter run. “They have rollers going down the gut of your defense and you have him coming off [the pick]. It is a tough play to stop. I thought Brook did a pretty good job on Gasol . . . But Conley got downhill and was making plays.”
Lopez, who has said he wants to be part of the Nets’ future, liked the physical play from his young teammates. “It’s a move in the right direction,” Lopez said of the increased physicality. “It’s good to see our young guys, especially, not backing down from the challenge.”