Trade Analysis: Lopez to Denver?

With the trade deadline closing in, the Denver Nuggets have re-opened trade talks with the Brooklyn Nets, focusing on Nets center Brook Lopez, offering C JaVale McGee and F/C J.J. Hickson in return.

The Nuggets are currently insisting on a straight up trade of centers/power forwards J.J. Hickson and Javale McGee for Brook Lopez, which the Nets have reportedly turned down. The Nets are not opposed to moving Lopez, but fresh off a game where he put up 35 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, the Nets want to ensure they get adequate value back in any trade. Where the Nets smart to decline this trade? Could Brook Lopez still end up in Denver in the coming weeks.

Why the Trade Doesn’t Work

USA Today
USA Today

Simply put, the talent and contracts of McGee and Hickson simply doesn’t add up to Lopez’s value to the Nets. Lopez is putting up 15.3 points per game and shooting 50% this season, and is one of the most important players in the Nets rotation, as he does whatever is needed when called upon.

Whether starting at center, playing alongside Mason Plumlee, or coming off the bench, Lopez puts up solid numbers night in and night out, leading to his very respectable 20.05 PER this season, tied with Al Jefferson for 13th in the league among centers. PER, or player efficiency rating, takes all significant player contributions into account. By comparison, JaVale McGee, averaging only 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, holds a 16.71 PER, and J.J. Hickson (a more respectable 8.3 PPG and 6.6 RPG) holds a 15.38 rating (League average is 15).

It’s easy to see these two players simply don’t have the same kind of productivity on the court as Lopez. Javale McGee is also owed $12 Million next year, which is by no means a worthy contract for his recent output. Additionally, would the Nets really need Plumlee, McGee, Garnett and Hickson all playing in the frontcourt this season? To add on, McGee has suffered long-term injuries for the past few season. McGee was out from December 8 to January 29 this season with a leg injury. McGee only suited up five games last season and 15 this season.

Why the Trade Could Work

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Denver has constructed a trade that fits perfectly under the salary cap, so the Nets could accept it without having to move around contracts. J.J. Hickson is actually a valuable piece and could definitely compliment Plumlee in similar ways to how Lopez does now. Hickson, still only 26, is under contract for $5.6 Million next year. A career 10.0 PPG and 7.1 RPG player, Hickson has thrived when playing along players like LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge. A

s Hickson approaches his prime, he could be a very viable complement to Mason Plumlee. One problem is neither player averages more than a block game, but with McGee coming along he could become the team’s top rim protector. Fans may remember McGee for his knuckle head mantra and mistakes made in his years in Washington, but McGee has developed into a more mature, solid role player. While his skillset doesn’t live up to his contract, overpaying him next year might not be the worst thing in the world.

With both players acquired, the Nets would have no business pursuing this summer’s top free agents, Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, as their frontcourt will be set. Conceivably, the Nets could let McGee walk in 2016 with little long-term damage to the franchise. But with no guarantee Hickson will be back in 2016 either, does this trade still make sense?

What Would Make the Trade Work

USA Today
USA Today

A first round pick would seal the deal for Brooklyn. JaVale McGee isn’t a part of this trade as an enticing piece, the Nuggets are trying to dump his less than stellar play and even less stellar contract on the Nets. The promise of a first round pick would offset the addition of McGee, and when McGee, Hickson, and Lopez are all free agents in 2016, the Nets will still have a young player on their roster to show for it.

The Nuggets could own up to three first round picks this year, so giving one away would be reasonable, though the Nets would need to request to Nuggets own first round pick, which would currently fall in the favorable 12th spot. Brook Lopez for J.J. Hickson, Javale McGee, and a the 12th pick in the draft would make sense for the Nets moving forward. While cap space would still be limited next year, the Nets would stay somewhat competitive and allow themselves to gear up for the summer of 2016.

If the Denver Nuggets really want Brook Lopez, they must throw in their first round pick in this year’s draft. While this remains to be seen, the Nets should continue listening to the Nuggets and other Lopez suitors. The Nets should be accounting for their future, not mortgaging it, if they decide to trade Brook Lopez.

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