The Nets have clearly moved on from their most recent Great Basketball Chemistry Experiment. The spill of failure is still being cleansed from the borough, but the club took some necessary steps by honoring Kyrie Irving‘s trade request and getting a very reasonable return for Kevin Durant.
There is, however, more work to be done before Brooklyn can truly start over.
“No one’s talking about the Ben Simmons part of this. No one’s talking about the elephant in the room — or should I say koala in the room,” one league executive told Heavy Sports, referencing the fact Simmons is from Australia (hey, GM got dad jokes!). “He’s kind of skated on a lot of the criticism here, but I guess that’s really on the Nets for getting him in the first place. People have been too busy talking about Kyrie to get into the effect Ben has on all this. I know (James) Harden wanted out, but taking back Ben never made sense.
“Brooklyn had questions and problems with Kyrie and KD from an organizational standpoint, but at least those guys could play. They were good. Ben has been less than good.”
According to this source, Simmons’ value took a dive once opponents figured him out in Philadelphia and were able to keep him out of transition, where his size and athleticism could be highly effective.
“He’s limited,” the exec said. “When you guard him more like a non-shooter, it’s hard for him to make decisions, because the decision that you need to make is shoot the ball. But he doesn’t want to shoot it, because he can’t shoot it. It’s just like a guy that can’t pass, you try to make him a passer.
“Ultimately for Ben, shooting is the Kryptonite. His decision-making when people are up into his body and he’s running full speed down the court and he’s in the open court with his size, he’s pretty good. But in the halfcourt, his decision making struggles because he can’t shoot.”
‘You Can’t Blame Sean’
The Nets had heard the Kyrie stories. Then-coach Kenny Atkinson got an earful at the 2019 summer league in Las Vegas. Brooklyn didn’t so much go after free agents Irving and Durant as they were informed by the pair that the club had been chosen.
“No one says no to that. You can’t blame Sean (Marks, the Nets’ GM),” said another prominent front office source. “And you have to trade for a guy like Harden when he says he wants to come there and your two guys, KD and Kyrie, are telling you they want him. But when he asked to be traded, it shouldn’t have been for Simmons. Ben’s just worth the kind of money he’s getting (a max rookie extension pays him $35.45 million this season, $37.9 million next year and $40.3 million in 2024-25).
“I can kind of understand why Philadelphia paid him, because they drafted him first overall. But Brooklyn trading for him? That’s on them. I don’t understand that at all. It’s not like they shouldn’t have known better. Maybe they thought he wouldn’t have to do much next to KD and Kyrie, but at a certain point a guy has to play, and he’s just not what that money says he’s supposed to be. He was never what everybody said he was. I think people were just afraid to say something contrary because he was putting up regular season numbers with their pace and he could look good in the open court. But, no, I don’t understand Brooklyn. There was ample evidence to say buyer beware, caveat emptor.”
Ben Simmons Concerns Lingering
The lasting image of Simmons in Philadelphia is passing up a layup/dunk attempt in the playoffs to avoid being fouled. He is a career 59 percent free throw shooter whose trips to the line are tellingly rare for someone who has had the ball so often and rarely shoots from the outside.
An Eastern Conference coach shared an illustrative story with Heavy Sports.
“The first guy that started the Hack-a-Ben process was Scott Brooks with Washington,” he said. “They’re playing Philly a few years ago and Philly’s up by around 20. Brooks starts putting Simmons on the line in the fourth quarter, and the game is getting closer as Ben is stepping to the line and bricking more and more foul shots. So finally Bradley Beal had to foul him. Usually you don’t have your best player fouling, but at that point he did.
“When that happened, Ben and Beal had this sort of animated conversation. Ben said, ‘I’m tired of you motherf*****s fouling me on purpose, man. I’m going to step up here and knock these two down. Five thousand dollars says I will.’ To which Beal replied, ‘You wanna make it 20?’ And then he went up and bricked one. I don’t think he said another word.
“There were certain indicators of this struggle early on. How did you miss it? And that is why he won’t shoot the ball. He lives in fear of having to shoot free throws or shooting airballs from the floor.”