Unfortunately for the Nets, moving on this season without their franchise center is a bitter reality after Brooklyn learned its 7-foot All-Star broke his surgically repaired right foot late Friday night against the Sixers. Lopez's ailing health will keep him out for the season, league sources said.
The Nets' worst nightmare is exactly the kind of wake-up call the New York Knicks needed. When Lopez fractured his foot, it sent a ripple effect throughout the Atlantic Division and New York basketball.
No matter how many times the Knicks lose weekend noon starts -- like the one they dropped 95-87 to the Grizzlies on Saturday -- they still have a realistic chance of winning the division.
The woefully sorry Atlantic has been the life preserver Mike Woodson and the Knicks have clung to for dear life through a miserable start. Lopez's broken foot only increases the Knicks' odds in the division.
The Knicks (8-18) have their own share of injuries with Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Kenyon Martin and Metta World Peace out. But sooner or later -- assuming James Dolan lets him stick around until then -- Woodson will get his full team back.
Even though the Knicks don't pass the ball, take bad shots and play defense like it's optional, they still have Carmelo Anthony and just enough pieces around him to take the division crown nobody is trying to win.
The Nets (9-17) also have plenty to claim the Atlantic Division, with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the lineup, which awaits the return of Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry.
But the Nets had their eyes set on so much more than the division. Mikhail Prokhorov is spending a fortune to win it all this season -- or at least see his team make the Eastern Conference finals and contend. But even before the Lopez injury, the Nets had to be realistic and wonder if they could hang with Miami and Indiana at full strength. Their championship window felt as if it was closing a lot quicker than most expected with the Nets' early struggles and Garnett and Pierce's advancing age.
Now without their 7-footer, the Nets might need to start internally thinking about what they want to do for this season and beyond.
Will Pierce and Garnett be with the Nets past this season? They signed up to win it all, not to settle for a division title and a first- or second-round exit.
The Nets will surely explore trade options. But they have an interesting dilemma: Do the Nets try to make a deal to still contend and chase the Heat and Pacers this season? Or does Brooklyn start the break up, see what it can get for its veterans and try to gain cap flexibility, collect some future assets and somehow maintain a somewhat competitive roster to keep fans coming to Barclays Center?
According to a league source, the Rockets had preliminary talks with the Nets last week about Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Talks never gained any steam, but the source said the Rockets were doing their due diligence and Williams' name came up. The Nets balked because one of the main reasons Pierce and Garnett agreed to a trade to Brooklyn was to play with Williams, according to the source. Williams, who signed a five-year, $98 million extension in 2012, was playing well upon returning from an ankle injury, and the Nets were looking better.
Should the Nets revisit talks with the Rockets or another contending team and consider trading a key piece like Williams, Garnett or Pierce now that Lopez is out for the season? It might be worth contemplating because this $190 million roster that was supposed to be a Rolls-Royce now is an expensive luxury car with a transmission problem.
Say what you want about Lopez's inability to rebound or his frustrating knack for fading in the second half of games. He was the horsepower of the Nets' engine, a 25-year-old with All-Star offensive skills that could easily translate to 20 points a night.
Dolan would build another Chase Bridge for a young big man like that. Even though Dolan told the Knicks that he believed they had a championship roster, the owner would gladly take a division title right now after seeing how his team dropped its 10th game at the Garden without any fight on the glass or in the paint.
"You look at the rebounding, it was [56-29]," Woodson said of the Grizzlies outworking the Knicks. "I mean that's embarrassing."
"I take pride in trying to win games at home," Woodson later added. "You win at home, just half of our games at home, we'd be sitting at the top of our division the way it's playing out right now."
Anthony thinks the Knicks' home woes are mental. Lopez's injury will help the Knicks' state of mind as far as believing the division is even more up for grabs.
The Nets should still remain a threat to win the Atlantic. But can they recover mentally from this devastating blow? How will Pierce and Garnett move forward knowing their dreams of winning a title in Brooklyn just took a massive hit? The Nets now have to readjust their goals.
It's going to be a depressing Christmas for the Nets. Meanwhile, the Knicks have renewed optimism going into the new year.