The 2017-18 NBA season probably hasn’t gone as Los Angeles Lakers center Brook Lopez hoped it would when the team traded for him over the summer. There was excitement within the organization over his addition, and Lopez’s 3-point shooting prowess and defensive skills were talking points.
Lopez, who is making $22.6 million in the final year of his current contract, was probably hoping to continue on the type of roll that allowed him to knock down 174 shots from deep last season. But instead he has seen himself play a career-low 20.6 minutes per game while also posting career-worst averages in points (11.6) and rebounds (3.8) per game.
Those aren’t the types of averages that are going to earn Lopez a big payday as a free agent this summer, and he’s also a talented player who would surely like more opportunities to show his skills even if his future NBA earnings weren’t on the line.
It’s unknown if that was what was bothering Lopez as he sat on the bench and the clock ticked down in a 127-105 loss to the Orlando Magic, but it was clear that something was affecting the normally affable seven-footer.
Lopez didn’t speak with reporters following the loss, but did open up some the following day, via ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk:
Calling it a “different situation” and an “adjustment” for him, Brook Lopez discussed not playing in the fourth quarter for much of this season as he makes his return to Brooklyn on Friday. Lopez said that he covered his face with a towel in the middle of the fourth during an embarrassing loss in Orlando where he didn’t play in the fourth for the 16th time in his last 18 games to vent and hide his emotions about that and the loss. “Yeah. For sure,” Lopez said. “I mean, especially on the court, I can be very visible, with my emotions [showing on my face]. So yeah, just trying to control myself, breathe a little bit, and just keep cool because it was an unfortunate game for us. Just watching it, it was tough to be out there. Just trying to get settled a little bit.”
With the Lakers careening towards another season spent in futility, frustration is clearly building for Lopez and it will be interesting to see how the team handles it.
Given that Lopez is in the final season of his contract, the Lakers could buy him out for some monetary (but not cap) savings and get some goodwill with him and his agent by letting him go try to help a playoff contender.
It simultaneously would create the possibility of more minutes being given to young centers Thomas Bryant and Ivica Zubac.
However, the Lakers also have no incentive to tank because they don’t own their own draft pick, and while Lopez might not be blowing anyone away with his per game averages, he does help the Lakers’ defense and makes them a better team with both his post-up skills and shooting ability.
If the Lakers want to compile as good of a record as possible heading into free agency, parting with Lopez, who is also a respected veteran presence in the locker room, could be a tough sell.
Still, the team probably has to do something with things getting this visibly bad. Maybe Lopez just hit a rough patch and will get over whatever was bothering him, but the Lakers also may have to see what they can do to salvage the situation.
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