Originally posted on Bloguin Best  |  Last updated 12/22/11

The New Jersey Nets have Brook Lopez in their plans -- both immediate and long-term. Immediately, he is the center for the Nets, the guy who can balance the offense and maybe anchor the defense for the Nets. In the long-term (and that long-term lasts until the end of the season) he is the critical piece the Nets need to acquire Dwight Howard, or the offer sheet they need to decline to free up the cap space to sign him outright in free agency.

The Nets have Howard in their sights. And, in order to convince Deron Williams to stay, they would like to get Howard in a Nets uniform as quickly as possible.

And that is why Lopez is so important. The Nets would have loved to see Lopez start the season out strong so they could convince Otis Smith and the Magic he is somewhere near fair compensation for Howard. As it stands, they do not have enough alone to acquire the Magic's superstar.

That might be why the news on Wednesday could cripple the Nets much more than in the win and loss column this year.

Brook Lopez suffered a stress fracture in his foot and will require surgery to correct it, Colin Stephenson of the Newark Star-Ledger reports. Lopez is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Lopez played in every game of his first three seasons. He had a breakout offensive year, scoring 20.4 points per game and posting a 19.3 PER for the Nets. He also started the season battling mononucleosis and never got his footing defensively despite the offensive progress.

The question is whether Lopez's injury will hamper New Jersey's future plans.

They put a lot of effort into clearing the cap space to go after Deron Williams and Dwight Howard in free agency in 2012. A good chunk of that effort lately has been to make an offer for Howard and get the courtship out of the way -- rumors are that Howard prefers New Jersey/Brooklyn and playing with Williams. New Jersey's last attempt -- a three-team deal that would have sent Lopez and Portland's Gerald Wallace to Orlando -- fell through. Orlando says they are in no rush to trade Howard and this development will not change that opinion.

Immediately, the Nets now rely on Kris Humphries, Shelden Williams or Johan Petro to play center. That does not bode well for the Nets, who now with Deron Williams for a full season, had playoff aspirations.

If Lopez misses four weeks, he would miss 15 games. That goes up to 23 if Lopez misses six games. That is nearly half a season gone thanks to this stress fracture. And outside of Williams, you wonder what this Nets roster has that could make them a playoff contender. And if they don't get Howard, how else is New Jersey going to convince Williams to stay with his eyes open to the players around him.

Then again, the Nets only have just $14.5 million committed next year if every option for next season is declined.

Lopez's future is tied to the Nets' future. And with Lopez on the shelf, New Jersey's deal to Orlando gets that much worse.

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