A seven-footer averaging 18 points and seven rebounds for his career, with unique floor-spacing, rim-protecting prowess and (some) playoff experience is set to hit the open market this summer – and he should draw a decent amount of interest.
Brook Lopez is coming off a solid campaign, one in which he showed the three-point shot he debuted in 2016-17 was not a fluke. For the season, Lopez put up 13.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks nightly while slashing respectable 46.8/34.4/69.1 shooting splits.
What’s more, dating back over the past two years, Lopez is one of just five players to hit at least 200 triples while swatting away 200 shots, the other four being Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kristaps Porzingis.
Though the Stanford product doesn’t put up the insane numbers some of the other players whose company he finds himself in by those benchmarks do, he does have a rarefied air about his game that many teams will find attractive come free agency.
Even so, with the lack of money that franchises around the Association will have to spend this summer, even a player with Lopez’s level of experience and overall ability will have trouble landing the type of deal free agents received back during 2016’s spending bonanza.
Nevertheless, Lopez will be a highly sought-after option after the first wave of big names – like LeBron James, Paul George and Chris Paul – agree to their next contracts.
We break down the Los Angeles Lakers big man’s likeliest landing spots.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers only make sense as a Lopez suitor if they lose the services of their own starting center, Jusuf Nurkic, this offseason.
Though Nurkic is set to become a restricted free agent, meaning Portland can match any offer sheet the big Bosnian signs in order to retain him, if one of the rebuilding organizations who have cap space to spend offer him a ridiculous deal, the Blazers may choose to let him walk.
After all, as is, Portland is projected to be $10 million over the salary cap come 2018-19, and that’s without Nurkic on the books. Even with his Bird Rights, bringing the young big man back could prove too costly for the Blazers, and the team may find itself with a need at the 5 to fill this summer.
One solid (and cheap) alternative could be Lopez.
The 30-year-old’s aptness as far as spacing the floor may be a better fit with the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum anyway, and could provide a boost to Portland’s 15th ranked offense from 2017-18.
As far as what type of deal the Blazers could give Lopez, unless they’re able to clear one or two of their more questionable contracts (the primary candidates being Meyers Leonard and Moe Harkless), all Portland would have to offer the veteran center is the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE), which is projected to be worth about $8.6 million.
A two-year, $17.2 million agreement would make sense for both parties, though it would hard cap Portland for 2018-19. Regardless, they may be willing to take that risk provided they land an experienced talent like Lopez, who would fill an important need.
Another 2017-18 playoff club who could use help at the 5, as well as more spacing from their bigs, are the Milwaukee Bucks.
Though John Henson has done an admirable job taking over the reigns at the position since Greg Monroe’s departure (Henson has averaged 9.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over 66 games as a starter), his skill set contains deficiencies that make him better suited for a role off the bench.
Besides his poor rebounding marks, the main issue Milwaukee has with its current starting center is his inability to score from outside the paint. Henson’s struggles as a floor-spacer reduce the room Giannis Antetokounmpo has to do damage near the rim, and prevents the team from having an even more potent offense.
On the other hand, Lopez’s chops as a three-point shooter would open up quite a lot of space for Antetokounmpo’s forays into the paint – a terrifying proposition for opponents.
Similarly to the Blazers, all the Bucks would be able to offer Lopez is the non-taxpayer MLE, since they already owe $103.2 million in salaries next season – which is a bit more than $2 million over the projected salary cap. (And that’s if they let impending restricted free agent Jabari Parker walk.)
Nevertheless, with Antetokoumpo recently putting what can only be defined as light public pressure on Milwaukee’s front office to improve the roster, the Bucks will be eager to find ways to upgrade the pieces around the player known as the Greek Freak.
Signing Lopez could be a relatively cheap way to do just that.
A return to the club where he spent the first nine years of his career can’t be ruled out for Lopez, especially considering they’re one of the few teams around the league who will have money to spend this summer.
Not only that, but despite the fact many expect the Brooklyn Nets to mail it in next season in hopes of landing a high draft pick (the first first-round pick of their own they’ll have to use since 2013 due to the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade), general manager Sean Marks has stated that won’t be the case:
One way to accomplish the goal of being competitive would be, obviously, to improve the team’s collective talent level.
What better way to do that than by bringing back the leading scorer in the franchise’s history, Lopez?
Not only would the sharpshooting big man help the Nets get better on the floor, but off it, he could play the role of mentor to talented 20-year-old center Jarrett Allen, who has already shown glimpses of being a potential building block for the future.
Financially, not many teams with a logical need at center could offer Lopez more money than Brooklyn. A deal along the lines of two years and $20 million between the two parties is possible, satisfying both club and player.
And it would still leave the Nets well below the salary cap, meaning they’d be able to go chase another lower level free agent or two as well.
Los Angeles Lakers
At the end of the day, Lopez’s current team, the Los Angeles Lakers, can’t be ruled out as a potential landing spot for the big man.
Even though the 7-footer will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Lakers own his Bird Rights, meaning Magic Johnson and Co. will be able to go over the salary cap to re-sign their starting center.
Moreover, if Los Angeles somehow strikes gold with either James or George (or both), and brings back Julius Randle, who has taken an impressive step forward in his career this season, they’re going to need to be as frugal as possible with filling out the rest of their roster.
The Lakers re-signing Lopez using his Bird Rights would fill an important need and come far cheaper than perusing the free-agent market for another big man.
Lopez’s level of experience and scoring prowess would be supremely helpful on a team with legitimate expectations. It’s been three seasons since the 10-year vet experienced the playoffs; Lopez, a hard-working, positive locker-room presence by all accounts, deserves another shot at postseason play.
Whether that comes with the Lakers next season or another club, there’s little doubt Lopez will draw a bevy of interest once he hits the open market.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.
HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.