For much of his nine-season Nets career, Brook Lopez lived with trade rumors to the point where he easily joked about it. But it was no joke on June 20 when Lopez received word that he had been traded to the Lakers along with a first-round draft choice for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov.
Suddenly, the Nets’ franchise player and all-time scoring leader no longer was part of the rebuilding plan. “I was in Brooklyn working out, and I got a call from the team and they let me know,” Lopez told Newsday in an interview on Wednesday, two days before facing his former team for the first time Friday night in Los Angeles. “So, I just got packed up and got out to L.A. that night, and I was in the gym the next morning.”
Lopez entered last season knowing he had great value as a trade chip, but he altered his game to incorporate the three-point shot to fit the system favored by coach Kenny Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks, and he asserted himself as a leader to hold the locker room together, especially after Jeremy Lin was lost for an extended period at midseason.
Naturally, there was an emotional aspect to Lopez’s departure. “I understood,” Lopez said. “I got it. It didn’t surprise me. They’d been talking about doing stuff before, and I had heard rumors before about going other places. So, it didn’t shock me at all.
“I couldn’t do anything about it. So, I was just trying to prepare myself for whatever eventuality, and once it happened, I got down to business out here and got to work.”
The silver lining for Lopez was the opportunity to join the franchise he rooted for as a kid born in North Hollywood and later raised in Fresno. “Playing for a team you grew up rooting for, there’s nothing cooler than that,” Lopez said. “My mom’s a fan of the team and my brothers are fans of the team.”
Playing for Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson has been a special treat for Lopez. “I’m a huge Magic fan, so having him around — to be a little fan boy — it’s awesome for the little kid Brook inside,” Lopez said with a laugh. “He’s so intelligent when it comes to the game that to have a mind like that available to talk to and to pick his mind, it’s an advantage for our team, especially when you look at how young our guys are.”
The Lakers, who are 3-4 heading to their Thursday night game in Portland, have a clutch of talented young players, but trading Russell to the Nets cleared space for them to draft Lonzo Ball as their point guard. Lopez attended Las Vegas Summer League games to support Ball and has been impressed.
“He makes everyone out on the court so much better,” Lopez said. “Obviously, he’s a transcendent talent, but then, you look at the kind of guy he is in the locker room. He gets everyone on the same page. We’re all out playing for each other. That’s the kind of leader he is.”
Because the Lakers are developing so many young players, Lopez is adapting to a reduced role. He’s averaging 11.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 23.4 minutes per game, all career-lows.
“It’s been an adjustment, but everyone realizes their accountability and responsibility to the team aspect of everything,” Lopez said. “With the versatility of talent we have, we can throw out a multitude of different lineups that mesh together in different ways.”
Lopez said facing the Nets for the first time “is another game. There’s no exception there.”
Does a part of Lopez still follow his old team? The answer was succinct. “No.”