Report of Kobe spat fuels D12-to-Nets talk

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez responded to the latest trade speculation surrounding himself and Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard the same way he has the past two seasons.

"It is what it is," Lopez said after Monday's practice. "I've said how I've dealt with it before. Even when this was a nonissue for the months or whatever the season has gone on, I didn't read any of the media stuff that anyone put out."

"I don't really know what to say that would be new, honestly," Lopez added. "It's the same old for me, you know?"

A report in Monday's Daily News speculated that the Nets and Lakers could begin trade talks surrounding Lopez and Howard because sources told the newspaper that Howard nearly came to blows with teammate Kobe Bryant recently. But two Lakers sources disputed the report to ESPNLosAngeles.com, with one source telling Ramona Shelburne, "it's simply not true."

On Monday, Bryant tweeted a photo of him and Howard pretending to square off, with a smiling Mike D'Antoni separating them. The tweet read, "The mamba vs d12 !! It's on lol."

Nets point guard Deron Williams was surprised to hear that a trade report had resurfaced, saying, "Are you serious?"

Asked how the team would handle it, he responded, "I don't know. Hopefully it doesn’t become an issue."

Lopez, 24, is having the best season of his career, averaging 18.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

"I just think he's confident," Williams said. "He's not looking over his shoulder every five minutes thinking he's gonna get traded, which definitely will help as far as his focus and him mentally being ready to play. I think he's just being so aggressive on both ends and that's something that we love to see."

Howard, 27, who is coming off back surgery, is having a down year, averaging 17.3 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game for the struggling Lakers. He will miss at least a week with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He will become a free agent at season's end.

Howard wanted to come to Brooklyn during the offseason, but the Nets and Orlando Magic couldn't agree on a trade; Howard was eventually dealt to Los Angeles.

ESPN.com's Chad Ford has reported that Howard still wants to play in Brooklyn, but at this point, it would be difficult for the Nets, given their cap situation, to get him unless they made a trade. During the offseason, King offered Lopez, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and four first-round draft picks to Orlando for Howard. But Magic GM Rob Hennigan rejected it. It is unknown if the Lakers might accept a similar proposal, should King decide to engage them in trade talks.

Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo is off to a 5-1 start and all indications are he'll likely finish out the season. But if the Nets are serious about targeting 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson to fill the position on a permanent basis next season, a roster built around Howard, Williams and Joe Johnson might be more appealing in an effort to convince Jackson to come out of retirement.