King: Nets will be careful with Lopez

Nets center Brook Lopez is out at least three weeks, but GM Billy King left open the possibility that the team could keep him sidelined for the rest of the season if the 23-year-old’s sprained right ankle continues to give him trouble.

“My main concern was him,” King told reporters in Miami on Tuesday. “We’ve got a young player, 23, and we’re going to make a decision, ‘Do we keep him out the rest of the year?’ Because I think it’s important for us to have a healthy Brook Lopez. And he’s not going to be out for the rest of the year, but at three weeks, if he still has a little soreness in the ankle, we’re going to hold him out. We want him as healthy as possible.”

Lopez suffered the injury in the third quarter of Sunday night’s game in Charlotte. X-rays were negative. The Nets will update the media on Lopez’s progress on March 23.

Lopez has been prominently mentioned as the centerpiece in trade talks for Orlando big man Dwight Howard. Lopez won’t be healthy by the March 15 trade deadline, but a league source told ESPN NewYork.com that the injury isn’t expected to have an impact on the Magic’s thinking one way or another.

The Magic have a little more than week to figure out if they’re going to keep Howard, who can opt out of his contract at the end of the season and become a free agent: trade him or keep him and hopefully convince him to stay.

Howard has said he loves the city, but hasn’t reneged on his trade request earlier this season, and the Nets are still believed to be his desired destination.

New Jersey would prefer to keep assets such as Lopez, a restricted free agent at season’s end, MarShon Brooks and their two first-round picks in the 2012 NBA draft and sign Howard in the offseason. At the same time, getting Howard at the deadline would likely convince Deron Williams to re-sign and form a dynamic point guard-center tandem with his friend.

But the Nets don’t necessarily have to land D-12 to keep D-Will, according to ESPN NBA Insider Ric Bucher.

“Deron Williams knows that the New Jersey Nets have cap room. They have draft picks. They have the possibility to build a team around him and go out and get free agents not named Dwight Howard,” Bucher said Tuesday on SportsCenter.

“So the idea that they have to get Dwight Howard for Deron Williams to stay with the New Jersey Nets is false.”

King cannot comment about other team’s players, but told reporters in Miami he’s exploring a number of scenarios to improve the team, whether that be creating more flexibility or other pieces.