The New Jersey Nets have dealt with more injuries this season than nearly every team in the NBA. As they get one player back, it seems two are heading to the sidelines. Head coach Avery Johnson is desperate for healthy players and the team is hungry for a win.
The man that started things off for the Nets this season on the injury front, center Brook Lopez, is just about ready to return from a broken foot. He was injured in New Jersey's preseason finale and has yet to see any action in this lockout-shortened season but is now listed as "questionable" for Saturday's game against the Chicago Bulls, putting his chances of playing at 50-50.
After practicing with the team this week, Lopez told reporters he is ready to get back on the court and help the Nets turn things around.
"I feel like I could play,'' Lopez said. "But obviously, they must be doing it to protect me – stuff like that.''
That's exactly what Johnson and GM Billy King are doing and that's what they need to continue to do. As the losses pile up and the frustration of Deron Williams continues to increase, there could be a feeling that it's time to push Lopez a little quicker than they have at any point in his rehab. Get the seven-footer back on the floor and maybe New Jersey can pull out a win or two before the All-Star break, setting the stage for a run at the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
But now is the worst possible time to force any player back from an injury to quickly and especially Lopez. Foot injuries are always tricky to deal with -- see: James, Damion -- and the Nets are facing three games in three nights, something that can take a toll on perfectly healthy athletes.
We also shouldn't forget Lopez is still one of the biggest trade chips in their talks with the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard. If the Nets center re-injures that foot, any chance the Magic would build a package around him would obviously go out the window.
Even if a trade for Howard isn't realistic, any chance the Nets have to win with any consistency after the All-Star break would also disappear if they were to lose Lopez for another extended period of time.New Jersey needs to wait until they are completely comfortable with their center hitting the floor running and then wait another couple of days.
I understand wanting to turn things around as quickly as possible to try and stop this season from slipping away, but now is a time for caution, not gambling.