Brook Lopez did all he could last season to adjust to the system general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson implemented, expanding his game to become a prolific three-point shooter. But in the end, the Nets’ all-time leading scorer was worth more to a rebuilding franchise as a trade chip than as their 7-foot go-to man in the middle.
An NBA source confirmed to Newsday on Tuesday night that the Nets traded Lopez and the No. 27 pick to the Lakers for shooting guard DeAngelo Russell and center Timofey Mozgov. The story first was reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of TheVertical and Yahoo.com. The Nets still own the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft and are likely to focus on acquiring a big man with three-point shooting range.
There was no announcement from the Nets Tuesday night because they can’t comment on a trade until it becomes official.
The Nets had plenty of salary-cap space to take the remaining three years worth $48 million on Mozgov’s bloated contract, and in the bargain they got the No. 2 overall pick from the 2015 draft. Russell was taken out of Ohio State with the second overall pick of the 2015 draft behind only Karl Anthony-Towns of the Timberwolves. Last season, Russell averaged 15.6 points with 3.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists while playing primarily as a point guard for the Lakers.
With the Nets, Russell figures to shift to shooting guard between veteran point guard Jeremy Lin and second-year small forward Caris LeVert to give the Nets a dangerous perimeter attack. Russell shot 35.2 percent from three-point range last season and also has the ability to slash to the basket.
Toward the end of last season, Russell lost the starting point guard job when he was benched, but he later returned to the lineup as a shooting guard. It would be a stretch to describe him as a “franchise player” at this stage of his career, but at 21 years old, he has plenty of time to develop into a difference-maker under Atkinson’s tutelage.
Mozgov is a serviceable big man, but he lacks Lopez’s ability to stretch the defense. He missed the only three-pointer he shot last season and is 7-for-40 from beyond the arc in his seven-season career. He started the first 54 games of last season before being benched and averaged 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds playing just over 20 minutes per game.
Russell comes to the Nets with what some regard as maturity issues. As a rookie, he recorded a cellphone video of teammate Nick Young without his knowledge that was leaked to a celebrity gossip website, leading to a locker-room rift. Mozgov began his career with the Knicks but was traded to Denver in the 2010-11 season as part of the deal for Carmelo Anthony. Trading Mozgov clears about $20 million in cap space for the Lakers in 2018 when LeBron James will be a free agent.
Lopez often joked about the perennial trade speculation that swirled around his name, but he made it clear last season that he hoped to remain with the Nets and pair with Lin. In the next-to-last game of the season at Boston, Lopez scored 25 points, which gave him 10,444 career points, four more than the previous record set by Buck Williams. That was the last game Lopez ever played for the Nets as he rested in the season finale.
The Nets drafted Lopez with the 10th overall pick in 2008. He played 562 career games, averaging 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds. Lopez has one year left on his contract at $22.64 million.
Teammate Spencer Dinwiddie bid goodbye to Lopez in a Twitter post that read: “Brook a monster . . . I hope everyone sees how talented he is in LA.”
COMING & GOING
The trade pieces that a source said will be exchanged between the Nets and Lakers:
G D’Angelo Russell (2 years, $12.6M remaining on contract)
C Timofey Mozgov (3 years, $54M)
C Brook Lopez (1 year, $22.6M)
Nets’ second first-round pick in 2017 draft (27th overall)