Lopez could make season debut Saturday

New Jersey Nets center Brook Lopez has been upgraded to questionable for Saturday night’s game in Chicago against the Bulls, and could make his season debut, the team announced Friday.

Lopez has missed the entire season with a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot. The 23-year-old suffered the injury on Dec. 21 in the Nets’ final preseason game against the New York Knicks and underwent surgery two days later.

Friday marks eight weeks since Lopez has been out. At the time of the surgery, the team projected he’d miss six-to-eight weeks. The team has been careful to bring him back slowly, and he hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his rehab.

The Nets (8-23) have struggled mightily without Lopez, a legit post presence who averaged a team-high 20.3 points per game for them last season.

Prior to being injured, Lopez had been extremely durable, having never missed a game in the first three seasons of his career.

Lopez had been discussed as the centerpiece in blockbuster trade talks surrounding Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard.

Lopez is in the final year of his rookie contract and will make $3.1 million this season. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2011-12 campaign.

The Nets could revisit talks with Orlando before the March 15 trade deadline in an effort to land Howard before he likely opts out of his contract and becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Getting Howard would likely enable the Nets to keep point guard Deron Williams, who has said he intends to opt out at season’s end, but has reiterated his hope of remaining with the franchise when the Nets move to Brooklyn next season, assuming they can put the right pieces around him.

Small forward Shawne Williams (sore left foot and knee, sprained left shoulder) is out indefinitely and is being evaluated, while center Mehmet Okur remains out with a lower back injury. The team plans to update Okur's status on Saturday.

The Nets have been decimated by injuries all season, and have been forced to start an NBA-high 15 different lineups as a result.