EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Brook Lopez wants to believe.
The Nets big man chose to re-sign with the team before the season, believing in the future of a franchise that had already mortgaged three years’ worth of draft picks in a failed bid at a championship. So even now, with two starters recently out with injury, and almost half the season gone, Lopez believes that the Nets could have the clout to attract free-agent talent in the offseason.
But only, he said, if something changes soon. Yes, the arena is nice. Players will like the new practice facility that the Nets will soon open in Brooklyn and hey, it’s New York. But . . .
“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” he said. “Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”
That’s been the challenge for the Nets this year, as they enter Friday’s matchup against the Magic having lost eight straight at home. They’re 10-25, and only the 76ers have a worse record in the Eastern Conference. They won’t have Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (fractured ankle) until at least the All-Star break and possibly longer, they lost point guard Jarrett Jack to season-ending knee surgery, and, as a punchline, the Nets gain nothing from tanking. The Celtics own the Nets’ first-round draft pick in 2016 and 2018, and have the option to swap in 2017 — all thanks to the 2013 trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
But with at least two more seasons with the Nets, Lopez can’t — and won’t — give up hope. Not with the possibility of about $40 million worth of projected cap space for next year.
“I think, for me, it’s all about potential,” he said. “The most important thing is winning. That’s the No. 1 thing. I think there are so many positives to look at as well . . . You can see it at times, we’re so competitive. We’ve got all our guys out there working and we’re a cohesive unit and when we play teams like the Warriors and Cleveland or the tops in the league, we’re right there.”
And though players like Kevin Durant and LeBron James — both free agents this summer — seem untouchable, there are other, more feasible options. The Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan is on the Nets’ radar, and multiple reports say that though DeRozan likes where he is, he plans to opt out of the last year of his contract to test the market.
And even if the Nets don’t look too formidable now, Lopez believes their personnel could one day be just as attractive as the Barclays Center, and the practice facility, and the city.
“We’ve definitely seen a lot of growth in guys,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence in myself and Thad [Thaddeus Young] and then a lot of the guys stepping in. Unfortunately, Rondae got hurt, and that was tough, but he was playing great before that . . . And then we have guys like Shane [Larkin] and Weezy [Wayne Ellington] come in and play well.
“You can definitely see the potential there.”