All things considered, the Brooklyn Nets should consider themselves fortunate to have gotten a player of Ben Simmons’ caliber in exchange for James Harden.
And you know what? That will be just as true next season as it is today.
At some point, the Nets may need to do the responsible and sensible thing and rule the young point guard out for the remainder of the season, for the good of the team and the player.
Since Simmons’ arrival in Brooklyn, the Nets have been cryptic in the information they’ve provided on his availability, or lack thereof. He’s gone from being expected to suit up almost immediately after to trade to being available “at some point this season.” Now, it’s anyone’s guess.
When asked about Simmons on Tuesday, Nets head coach Steve Nash would only offer that there has been no improvement in Simmons’ condition and that he’s no closer to returning than he was last week. He hasn’t had another MRI. That isn’t good.
At 25 years old, Simmons has an entire career ahead of him. The idea that the Nets would somehow lose face in the aftermath of the Harden trade is borderline absurd. That the Nets were able to rid themselves of a disgrunted Harden and acquire Simmons — a player who should fit seamlessly with Irving and Durant long-term — was a windfall. The Nets simply had no choice.
Knowing that there’s a bigger picture at stake in Brooklyn, the Nets at some point will need to be responsible and rule Simmons out. Even if Nash wanted to work him into the lineup ahead of the postseason, the grace period during which a coach would have been able to incorporate a new player has all but run out.
That Simmons is still nowhere near returning to the court could only mean that his back injury is more serious than originally thought. Rushing him back would be shortsighted.
Dwight Howard, Larry Johnson and Larry Bird all had back issues, and their careers were undercut as a result. Plenty of players — including Michael Porter, Jr. — know that back issues aren’t anything to play with.
And in Steve Nash’s locker room, best believe, the clarity on Simmons’s fate this season would probably go a long way. Of all the colors, gray is the least favorite of any NBA player.
As a class, our heroes thrive on routine, habit and known expectations. Players like to know how many minutes they’ll play, what their roles will be, what is expected of them and who they can count on to be beside them. The lack of clarity with Kyrie Irving, it is believed, had a lot to do with Harden’s unhappiness in Brooklyn in the first place. Ironically, now that Irving is available to the team on a full-time basis, the question mark that Nash and his coaching staff had to operate around — Irving — has now been replaced by another in Simmons.
For comparison’s sake, the Golden State Warriors took the bull by the horns and ruled James Wiseman out for the remainder of the season so he can rehab his torn meniscus. His future was deemed too important not to give him every opportunity to get himself right, and his teammates will likely benefit from the clarity it provides.
Brooklyn should be so wise.
Entering play on March 30, the Nets have just six games remaining in the regular season, and there’s quite a bit at stake. They can realistically finish anywhere from seventh to 10th in the Eastern Conference. The same will be true for the Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks.
It’s all but guaranteed that the Nets will find themselves in the play-in tournament, though their seed and opponent are obviously still to be determined. Without Simmons suiting up to play at least four or five regular-season games, the risk of putting him out there in a do-or-die game could be too great for Nash to co-sign. A play-in game also doesn’t seem like the ideal scenario to deploy a player who will need to acclimate himself to new surroundings. The same can be said of a first-round playoff series in which the Nets know they would be facing even stiffer competition should they advance.
Ideally, when a new key player is introduced to a lineup, a coach will give himself a 15-to-20 game grace period to figure out rotations, allow the troops to build chemistry and truly get a grasp on what it is they like to run. In the case of Simmons, incorporating him will be more difficult than a player like Seth Curry because Simmons is not a catch-and-shoot scorer. In order for Simmons to thrive, he will need to have an opportunity to learn Brooklyn’s offense and operate with the ball in his hands. That’s not a process a team with championship aspirations can cheat.
Admittedly, if Simmons could serve some utility as a finisher at the basket and a defensive presence, even at less than 100%, there’s at least room to wonder whether he would be a net-plus over the likes of Bruce Brown or Andre Drummond. However, Brown can shoot, and Drummod provides more credible resistance to the likes of Bam Adebayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid.
Brooklyn is in a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, they don’t want to rush Simmons back before he’s ready, but on the other hand, the longer he takes to get on the court, the higher the stakes will be for a team that will certainly need a few games to figure things out.
When Simmons arrived in Brooklyn, it was thought to signify the beginning of a new era for the Nets.
In the end, it still can be, even if it means waiting until the 2022-2023 season to see it all come together.
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