The Brooklyn Nets Disaster Keeps Getting Worse
Ben Simmons, for whom the Nets traded James Harden, has been shut down for the remainder of the season, part of a "traumatic" two years the team's GM said
Ben Simmons, who remains the Brooklyn Nets’ most vibrant symbol of the team’s disastrous decision making since the acquisitions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving four long years ago, won’t suit up for an NBA game again in 2023. His balky back is to blame, as the three-time All-Star point guard suffered a nerve impingement in the area.
Simmons sat out all of the 2021-22 season in part because of back problems that led to surgery last summer. He hasn’t played since the NBA’s All-Star Break in mid-February due to the nerve impingement, and he’ll finish the 2022-23 campaign with a putrid per-game stat line: 3.2 field goals made, 6.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 6.9 points. All are by far career lows.
The Nets, who are still in the playoff mix, sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, paid Simmons more than $35 million to play in 42 games this season and average 26.3 minutes in each. They’ll have to contend for a championship with a starting five of Spencer Dinwiddie (17.5 points per game), Mikal Bridges (19.7), Cameron Johnson (14.9), Dorian Finney-Smith (8.2) and Nic Claxton (12.5).
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For comparison’s sake, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are averaging 26.7 and 26.3 points per game, respectively, since the Nets traded them away.
But maybe the Nets will finally get something significant out of Simmons, for whom they famously traded James Harden, next season. (By the way, Harden’s averaging 21.4 points per game and 10.8 assists per game this season for the Philadelphia 76ers, who would occupy the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs if the season ended today.)
“Our doctors and the specialists feel and think that he’ll have a full recovery, so that starts now,” said Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn yesterday. When asked by reporters if the team believes Simmons will need another back surgery, he said “that’s not in sight.” Vaughn also praised Simmons’ floor presence and athleticism as a two-way threat on the court, saying, “I want to coach Ben and I want to be able to push Ben.”
Simmons’ agent, Bernie Lee, told SNY that he and Simmons also have “every expectation that Ben will be a Day One participant when camp begins next year without restrictions or issues.”
Simmons’ back problems were not the only reason he didn’t play for the 76ers or the Nets last season. He said he was also dealing with mental health issues.
The Australian-born player told The Sydney Morning Herald in November 2022 that he has lived with depression and felt pressure under the expectations of professional-athlete stature and the trappings of fame. While a member of the Sixers, he was upset with the organization because its leaders and some of his teammates didn’t seem to fully acknowledge his emotional struggles or give him the space to address them.
“I definitely didn’t handle it the right way after the season, but there’s two sides,” he told the Herald. “Your teammates are supposed to have your back. Your coaches are supposed to have your back. And I didn’t have that at all.”
Simmons said when he told Sixers head coach Doc Rivers that he was not mentally ready to play, Rivers said he’d pencil him into the lineup, regardless. Describing his emotional response to Rivers’ rebuff, Simmons said to the Herald, “Okay, so now you’re just trying to f… with me.”
The Nets’ front office seems to be a little more empathetic toward Simmons, for which they deserve credit, even in the wake of their “super team” falling apart (“hilariously” and predictably so, considering the destructive personalities they brought in to build it). Said team general manager Sean Marks about Simmons and the season-ending injury news, “This is a young man that has been through a very traumatic and pretty arduous last couple years here, and this is not what he wants to hear…I do feel for him because I know he wants to be out here and be part of this team, and I hope he uses all of this chalkboard fodder for motivation. We hope that he’s back healthy, ready to go.”
With all this drama surrounding Simmons the past few years, it’s easy to forget he’ll only be 27 years old entering the 2023-24 season. In that season and the following one, two of his theoretical “prime years,” the Nets will pay him an average of about $39 million each.
Hopefully he’s worth it — for the Nets’ sake and, perhaps, his own.
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