He's a 24-year-old 7-footer that has averaged close to 20 points per game over his last three seasons, and he's making the same sort of money we had absolutely no issue with handing Roy Hibbert earlier this month. So why do we feel so dodgy about the Brooklyn Nets paying Brook Lopez nearly $61 million over the next four years? Why turn our nose at this, when saying all sorts of wonderful things about Hibbert's career marks of 11 points and6.5 boards over 24 minutes of play?
Because of various, sound variables, actually. Strong hallmarks of "he doesn't deserve it"-play that has a lot to do with the fact that Lopez averages just one more rebound per game than Hibbert in his just-as-long career despite playing 10 more minutes per game. There are the foot problems, breaks that limited his season to just five out of 66 games in 2011-12. There's his spotty defensive play, and the realization that the Nets have just signed themselves out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes until at least Jan. 15, the first day that Lopez can be traded.
There's also the end realization, though. The one that tells you that Brook Lopez can score 20 points a night from the center position, and those guys just don't really come around too often. And with Charlotte chomping and Portland likely to take the money it once set aside for Hibbert to throw at Lopez, you probably have to pay Brook nearly $61 million spread out over four years. It will take some getting used to, but it's appropriate.
The deal's merits also rely on its context. Money spent on the Nets' roster is, apparently, no concern for Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov. As he damns the luxury tax and builds his team, Prokhorov has inked three players to deals that will average in the eight figures per year during this offseason, and traded for one of the league's fattest contracts in the person of All-Star Joe Johnson. You get the impression that this guy really, really doesn't mind.
With that element in place, though, never forget that the Bobcats and Blazers were ready to ink Lopez to the same terms. Brooklyn didn't bid against itself with Brook, in the same way that it did in overpaying Gerald Wallace, and the big man's continued dalliance with other teams made it so the Nets (clearly without the assets they needed to singularly pry Howard from Orlando) needed to guarantee they were walking out of this offseason with a pretty good center in hand.
Now, the onus is on Lopez to turn into a pretty great center.
Even by typical box score standards, your casual NBA fan can surmise that Lopez is lacking on the glass. He didn't start out too terribly, gathering almost 16 percent of available rebounds during his rookie year, but things have gotten significantly worse since then — down to averaging one rebound for every six minutes of play during his last full season in 2010-11. He's a center, you'll recall.
Rebounding, at the NBA level, really is something that just cannot be taught. Rare is the poor-rebounding big man that develops into something you can trust on the glass, because even for the most dogged of competitors those quick instincts just can't be taught or bought or downloaded as an app. You just don't get significantly better at it, once you've hit this level.
The issue here is that Lopez, for 82 games stretched out over 2008-09, was pretty solid at it. And he needs to get pretty solid again. Nine and a half rebounds per 36 minutes of play, as he contributed back in 2008-09, should be approachable again. Even if other teams have scouted their way into denying Lopez a chance at those numbers, he can find other ways. He'll have to if he wants to earn this contract.
Four years, and nearly $61 million for a center that will be 28 when the deal ends, and for a big man who can score with relative ease in comparison to just about every other pivot that plays in this league. Based on that scouting report, alone, it's a sound deal. Based on owner Mikhail Prokhorov's willingness to spend, it's a sound deal. Based on the competition for his talents, this was a sound deal.
It's just going to take some getting used to.