MILWAUKEE — Coach Kenny Atkinson said the Nets “have a plan” for every player on the roster, but it still came as a surprise to learn the plan for Brook Lopez was to leave him at home for Saturday night’s game against the Bucks at the GMO Bradley Center after he scored 25 points in the home-opening victory over Indiana on Friday night.
The club officially announced the move Saturday and went into the game shorthanded, with Justin Hamilton starting at center in place of Lopez. It’s the first time the new regime headed by general manager Sean Marks has taken what some might regard as a radical approach, but it won’t be the last. And Atkinson said the same could happen with other Nets in the future.
Asked to explain the Lopez plan, Atkinson said, “I would say with every one of our players, we have a specific plan in place. We look at the season, we look at our schedule and we look at it from many angles. This doesn’t mean he won’t play back-to-backs for the rest of the year. We take each back-to-back, take each portion of the schedule and look at it and do what’s best for him and best for the team.”
Lopez spent the summer losing weight and working to improve his mobility to fit in Atkinson’s motion offense and active help defense, and he played sparingly in the preseason. In the regular-season opener at Boston, he was on the floor only 21 minutes.
So it’s not as if there was no forewarning, but leaving him home for the third game of the season raised questions. “I think we’re just building him up,” Atkinson said. “We have a plan to increase his minutes, increase his playing time as the season goes on. I think it’s a smart way to look at it. We’re thinking long-term, big-picture. Soon enough, he’ll be at his normal minutes.”
For now, the Nets are in a tough opening stretch in which they play six games in 10 nights and four games in six nights. So that was a major factor. The approach is part of the overall change within the organization designed to achieve maximum performance.
“We just take kind of a holistic approach to each player and their development and playing time,” Atkinson said. “I’m sure in the future you will have questions about some other guys on our team. We’re all on board. Again, we want peak performance for the long-term. That’s really what we’re looking at here.”