The Los Angeles Lakers can’t afford to look back, committing to a new path the moment they traded D’Angelo Russell. Lost in the whirling news cycle and immediate analysis was the fact that the Lakers landed 29-year-old Brook Lopez, who just drained 134 shots from deep last season.
That’s one less made three-pointer than Russell’s 135, and Lopez did it while shooting just .6 percent worse than D’Angelo. To boot, it was Brook’s first season even trying to be a stretch center, attempting three total shots from downtown in the 15,896 regular season minutes he’s played prior to last season.
This is the one of the many lights Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka wanted to shine on their new max contract big man during his introductory press conference, which was clear from his opening statement.
“We’re incredibly excited today, and what today is not about, it’s not about players that we traded away. It’s not about creating cap space. It’s about this phenomenal human being and player that we’re so excited to have join the Lakers,” Pelinka said, directing the conversation and focus.
The Lakers’ Shakespearean general manager spoke glowingly of Lopez, who he believes can be the guiding compass to a young Lakers core that he fits perfectly with on paper. Lopez’s professionalism and dedication is something Pelinka hopes sets a positive example for a young core that’s going to need a stabilizing presence.
Adding the big man who’s averaged at least 20 points per game in four of his nine seasons as he enters his prime is something Pelinka believes will define the upcoming season for Los Angeles. He doesn’t see the next 82 games as a year of rebuilding, either.
“Brook is going to be a key leader for us to help these young men grow into great NBA players, and we don’t see next year at all as a rebuilding year, we see it as a Lakers year, and a lot of that is going to be centered around him, and what he stands for and what we know he’ll give to this organization,” the Lakers’ general manager said.
That very well may be the case. Lopez could be a great partner for Lonzo, a great mentor for Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant and a great teammate to all. Those details have always been on the surface, but the conversation has largely revolved around those things Pelinka said their press conference was not about.
What it was was a chance for Pelinka to tell the Lakers’ side of the story, which included the chance to evaluate Lopez for a year while the NBA tries to mold every big man into a perimeter shooter. With any luck, the Lakers may have found theirs.
“Luke’s system is predicated on having bigs that can stretch the floor and create space, especially with Lonzo Ball and Jordan Clarkson as attack guards. Having bigs opens up the floor and allows them to make plays, allows Brandon Ingram to get increases, Julius running the floor, Larry... I think it’s a perfect fit, and I think he’s a perfect road map to our next generation of centers here, too,” Pelinka said.
Lopez has spent his entire nine-year career with the Brooklyn Nets, and when asked about how he felt leaving the only franchise he’s played for, he compared it to the uncertainty of draft night at first. It didn’t take long for him to embrace the next chapter in his career, though.
“Once I was settled I think a lot of those emotions turned into general excitement for this opportunity and this chance to come back home and play for a team I grew up cheering for, and help lead this franchise back to success.
“I want to be out there teaching the young guys, helping them do whatever I can and just being a guy Luke can rely on to go out there and do whatever he asks,” Lopez said.
The Lakers, as constructed, need that reliable focal point. Lopez fits the mold of being just that, slogging night in and night out for a Nets team that’s only made the playoffs twice during his tenure. It’s that perseverance, that drive, to continue improving and remain focused on being the best individual he can be on the basketball court that Pelinka believes will help drive the Lakers culture in the direction he and Magic Johnson envision.
“He’s adapted to the new style of play in the NBA. Every year he’s committed to his fitness, his endurance, how he takes care of his body. How he treats other human beings. We just couldn’t be more proud of who he is and how he’s going to help us lead this new Lakers team that we’re forming,” Pelinka said.
Brook Lopez isn’t D’Angelo Russell, nor is he the player that fans and the front office hope to see in Los Angeles with the elusive salary cap space the franchise created. What he could be, though, is the perfect center for this Lakers team.
* All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com