Nets exploring potential blockbusters

ByMarc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 9, 2014

NEW YORK -- The Brooklyn Nets have begun reaching out to teams to let them know that former All-Stars Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are available via trade, has learned.

League sources told that the Nets, off to a disappointing 8-11 start and looking to retool after last season's $190 million roster filled with veterans couldn't advance beyond the second round of the playoffs, have let it be known that they are prepared to move any of those franchise cornerstones in what would likely be separate deals if they came to fruition because of the high salaries each possess.

Sources say no trade is imminent involving any of the three players.

Veteran forwardAndrei Kirilenko, who has been out of the rotation and mostly away from the team recently due to a personal matter, also could be traded. The 76ers and Nets had preliminary talks about a Kirilenko deal in late November, and those talks have since restarted, sources

The exploratory discussions with various teams are the strongest indication yet that the Nets are looking to shake up their roster after a tumultuous 2013-14 campaign in which they started 10-21 under rookie coach Jason Kidd. They rallied to reach the playoffs and beat the Toronto Raptors in a first-round series despite another season of ups and downs for Williams and the injury-plagued Lopez alongside Kevin Garnett and the since-departed Paul Pierce.

Yet sources insist that the Nets haven't abandoned their recent "win-now mentality" and aren't merely looking to dump salary. Brooklyn's hope, sources said, is to construct a deal or two that bring back sufficient talent that enables the Nets to remain a playoff team.

The Nets have built their team around Williams, 30, and Lopez, 26, dating to the February 2011 trade to acquire the former from the Utah Jazz. Both have since signed maximum contracts alongside another max player in Johnson, whom Brooklyn acquired in the summer of 2012 to help fend off the Dallas Mavericks and re-sign Williams when he was a free agent.

But the Nets, still sporting a hefty $94 million payroll this season after spending nearly $190 million in salary and luxury taxes last season, have not enjoyed the kind of results they had hoped for under new coach Lionel Hollins.

Asked by reporters Dec. 1 if he thought that the core of Williams, Johnson and Lopez could win, Nets general manager Billy King said: "We'll see."

Pressed about the possibility of making changes to the roster, King acknowledged that "we're on the phones, we're talking to people, but there's nothing imminent."

The reality is that trading Williams, Lopez or Johnson, let alone a combination of those three, is likely to be difficult.

Williams has two years remaining on a five-year, $98 million deal and has struggled to recapture the All-Star form he displayed in Utah while battling ankle trouble in recent seasons. He is due $21 million next season and $22.3 million in 2016-17, with the ability to opt of his contract and return to free agency in the summer of 2016.

Lopez, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal in 2012, has one more season left on his contract after this one. It's a player option for 2015-16 worth $16.7 million, which Lopez is expected to exercise given the foot injuries that have plagued him for years in addition to the back strain that has him sidelined presently.

Johnson is making $23.2 million this season as the league's third-highest player and is owed $24.9 million in 2015-16. He combines with Williams and Lopez to form the league's highest-paid trio this season at $58.7 million combined.

Johnson isn't making the trip with the Nets to Chicago because he is sick with the flu and will miss his second straight game when Brooklyn faces the Bulls on Wednesday.

Williams underwent offseason surgery on both ankles but has played in all 19 games this season, averaging 17.1 points and 6.5 assists in 36.5 minutes per game.

Lopez is averaging 16.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in 16 games this season but played in a mere 96 games over the past three full seasons. The 7-footer appeared in just 17 games last season before suffering a season-ending injury to his right foot Dec. 20 in Philadelphia.

Lopez underwent two procedures on his right foot in January, when he had surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal and a first metatarsal osteotomy, in which another bone was repositioned in his foot to unload and protect the injured area. On March 3, Lopez had surgery to repair a torn tendon and tighten lateral ligaments in his left ankle.

With both players making their way back while the Nets try to learn a new system under Hollins, Brooklyn has had difficulty meshing at times during the first couple of months.

Williams and Lopez are adjusting to their fourth coach since the 2012-13 season, when Avery Johnson was fired and replaced by interim coach P.J. Carlesimo. Hollins, who replaced Kidd, has said he has had to learn a lot about his players and admitted to having to alter his system slightly late last month.

A frustrated Johnson called the team out a few weeks ago for playing "very selfish" and saying that "guys kind of exhaust their options, and then when there is nothing else for them, then they'll pass it when they have to."

But the Nets showed their potential with a 95-93 overtime win over the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs last week when Williams had 17 points and nine assists and Lopez had 16 points and 16 rebounds.'s Mike Mazzeo contributed to this report.

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