By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Unlike summers past, when the Nets were symbolically left at the altar or simply snubbed by potential free-agent acquisitions and/or players available via trade, this sweltering offseason has been defined by the organization's successful luring of prime-time talent to the nearly completed Barclays Center in the heart of Downtown.
Except, of course, for Orlando center Dwight Howard, who continues to be the property of the Orlando Magic, despite numerous bids by Brooklyn general manager Billy King to put together a suitable deal for the All-Star 7-footer.
While Howard reportedly continues to pine for a spot on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, the Nets moved on from the maddening negotiations with Magic GM Rob Hennigan once and, quite possibly, for all Wednesday evening, re-signing their own big man, Brook Lopez, for four years and $61 million.
Lopez's signing means the Nets can't move him in a deal for Howard until Jan. 15, which would be well into the 2012-13 campaign, leaving Hennigan to pursue offseason deals with the pivotman's remaining suitors, the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets.
By averaging nearly 20 points per game over the past three seasons, Lopez ranks second only to Howard in scoring among the league's true centers during that stretch, though he managed to play in only five games last season due to a broken foot. His return to the Nets, presumably in good health, may appear to be a second-prize finish in the ongoing Howard sweepstakes, but King, for one, isn't buying it. At least not publicly.
"Brook Lopez is one of the top young centers in the NBA," said King in a team-issued statement, as the Nets prepared to welcome re-signed free-agent point guard Deron Williams and newly acquired All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson at a press conference within the confines of Brooklyn Borough Hall on Friday at noon. "We have witnessed his growth as a player over the past four years, and are very pleased that he will remain in a Nets uniform as we begin our new era in Brooklyn."
A lineup featuring Williams (five years, $98 million), Johnson (four years, $90 million remaining on his deal from Atlanta), Lopez, re-signed forward Gerald Wallace (four years, $40 million) and the Euroleague's leading scorer Mirza Teletovic (three years, $9 million) is certainly powerful enough to compete with the best teams in the Eastern Conference as the Nets attempt to mark their historic inaugural campaign in our fair borough by reaching the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
Add to that potential starting five the likes of second-year guard MarShon Brooks, rookie point guard Tyshawn Taylor, forward Reggie Evans and perhaps even rebounding machine Kris Humphries, who remains a free agent, and the Nets will boast one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the NBA, not to mention the five boroughs.
Eat your hearts out Knicks fans.
Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who has remained steadfast in his belief that the Nets would have a title contender on the floor of their new state-of-the-art arena come November, voiced his pleasure at the new and much-improved roster King has put together, albeit with the help of several hundred million dollars.
"I'm thrilled with the way our team has come together," Prokhorov said in a statement. "My congratulations and appreciation go out to general manager Billy King, assistant general manager Bobby Marks and head coach Avery Johnson for their tenacity, nerve and heart throughout this process.
With the re-signing of Deron Williams and the trade for Joe Johnson, we go into our new home led by an All-Star backcourt and with every hope of a great season for the Brooklyn Nets. I can't wait until opening night."
Neither can our borough's basketball enthusiasts, some 18,000 of whom will be on hand for the opening tip at Barclays four shorts months from now after 55 years of not having a major pro sports franchise to call their own since the Dodgers defected to Los Angeles following the 1957 season.
Judging from the talent the Nets put together for their historic Brooklyn debut, it appears the wait was well worth it.