- Posted: 6:00 PM, July 18, 2012
Still, the 7-footer never envisioned himself being anywhere but where he found himself Wednesday, on a dais in front of a Brooklyn Nets banner announcing that he re-signed with the franchise.
"I love being a Net," Lopez said. "This is where I want to be, this is where I wanted to be.
"I love being here, and I can't really envision myself being anywhere else."
Lopez is easily the longest tenured Net, even though his tenure with the team only dates back to 2008, when the Nets took him with the 10th overall pick in the draft. He was the only player present when the Nets officially became the Brooklyn Nets on April 30, and now will be the team's starting center when it debuts in the brand new Barclays Center this fall after he signed a four-year, $61 million contract to return last week.
"These are definitely exciting times for us," Lopez said. "I'm definitely anxious to finally start the season off ... I'm counting down the days. I don't know the last time that I've been this excited to start the season."
But for as much as Lopez likes to downplay the impact of the trade rumors that have swirled around him ever since the lockout ended late last year and Howard issued his trade request, Nets coach Avery Johnson drove out to Lopez's basketball camp in New Jersey last month to sit down with his 24-year-old center and talk to him about the uncertainty surrounding his future.
"It was trying to get ahead of what I saw coming down the pike," Johnson said. "I just didn't want him to think he was on an island by himself ... I wanted to go out and reiterate some of the things I told him about his game, about me wanting him to be a part of what we're doing here.
"A lot of the stuff that's out there, as the coach I can't necessarily control it. But just be prepared to come back and be a dominant center like I know you can be."
Lopez couldn't be that center for much of last season, as the combination of a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal in his right foot and a later right ankle injury kept Lopez sidelined for all but five games. After playing in every game the first three seasons of his career, he admitted it was a struggle to sit and watch.
"It's not something that I've done before and it just made me realize just how much I love the game, and being on the floor," Lopez said. "Like you said, hopefully this next season, starting with game one, I'll be able to play."
After spending the first four years of his career playing on losing teams, Lopez is also excited to take the floor with the new and improved Nets roster, including a starting lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace -- all former All-Stars -- and newly re-signed power forward Kris Humphries, who has averaged a double-double each of the last two seasons.
"I want to get out there with the guys and on the floor in training camp," Lopez said, "work through mini camp, work through preseason and get to that opening night."