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Brook Lopez #11 of the New Jersey Nets looks to pass against the New York Knicks during their pre season game  at Madison Square Garden on December 21, 2011 in New York City. Brook Lopez is expected to be out 4 to 6 weeks.

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The Nets’ Pursuit of Dwight Howard May Have Hit a Snag

One fascinating aspect of NBA trade proposals is that they're composed of moving parts; the assets involved have the potential to change in value with each passing basketball game. When the Magic and Nets decided to put a pin in their proposed off-season swap of Dwight Howard for Brook Lopez and other assets, they invited the meddling influence of actual games. And, with the regular season still days away, those games have already meddled. At some point during Wednesday's preseason game against the Knicks, Lopez hit his right foot the wrong way, but remained in the game despite the pain. X-rays later revealed that to be a poor decision, as he'd fractured the fifth metatarsal (the bone just posterior to the pinky toe) in his right foot. The injury will require surgery, which is scheduled to take place today and is expected to keep Lopez off the floor for four to six weeks.

This complicates the Nets' pursuit of Dwight Howard, but doesn't undermine it completely. It would still behoove the Magic to trade Howard and net a return before he leaves in free agency, and the Nets are still one of the few teams that's both desirable to Howard and potentially helpful to the Magic. That said, one of Lopez's most prized attributes is his durability — prior to this injury, Lopez hadn't missed a single game in his three years as a pro. Particularly when compared to Andrew Bynum, the arguably superior but considerably more injury-prone centerpiece of the Lakers' proposed package for Howard, Lopez's record of health is an attractive quality. This injury doesn't erase that record, but it does add another variable into the equation. Especially in light of Yao Ming's career-ending injuries, teams are exceedingly wary of even the slightest defects in feet that support seven-foot, 300-pound bodies. If the prognosis on this particular injury is accurate, Lopez will hopefully be back some time in February, which is about halfway through the 66-game season but still well before this year's March trade deadline. So, the Nets have some pressure to get Lopez healthy as soon as possible, but whether they plan to trade him or not, must be exceedingly careful not to rush him back and risk reinjury.

Meanwhile, Nets GM Billy King wasted no time in finding Lopez's replacement. Yesterday, he made use of the Nets' ample cap space and sent a future second-round pick to Utah in exchange for Okur, whose expiring contract will pay him over $10 million this season. Okur is a solid choice, as he's both a former All-Star center and a former teammate of Deron Williams, whom the Nets would very much like to keep satisfied while they go poaching for Howard or some other co-star. 

So, the Lopez injury doesn't ruin the Nets' chances at Dwight Howard; it just gives them another ball to juggle. New Jersey's task now is to stay competitive while keeping Williams happy, Howard interested, and, now, Lopez healthy enough to return without mishap. It promises to be difficult — perhaps increasingly so with time — but definitely not impossible.

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Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images