If there was any question about how his former teammates felt about beleaguered Brooklyn Nets star Ben Simmons, or at least his impact, there aren’t anymore.
“I got a lot to say about last year,” said Philadelphia 76ers reserve forward Georges Niang during a live appearance on-location for the ‘John Kincaide Show’ on 97.5 The Fan on February 24. “Ben Simmons kind of handicapped us at the beginning of last year, didn’t he? I mean, I wasn’t going to say it but – you know what I mean?”
The panel joked that Niang was only playing to the crowd.
Simmons was traded last season after holding out due to mental health issues and a back injury, the latter of which required surgery. This season has seen Simmons’ effectiveness fluctuate ultimately leading head coach Jacque Vaughn to reduce his role before the break.
“That ain’t none of my business,” Niang said when informed of this development.
“When you’re building rosters – I’m talking about from a general manager’s standpoint – I don’t know how much he makes, but it’s a max contract,” Niang explained. “So you immediately take that off the books…Now you have to figure it out where other role players have to step up and replace the passing, dribbling rebounding, defense.”
Simmons is signed to a five-year, $177 million contract. He still has two years and over $78 million coming to him. Notably absent from Niang’s list of ways Simmons would have helped were he available, naturally, was scoring which was brought to his attention.
“Exactly my point,” Niang deadpanned.
Simmons’ scoring is essentially non-existent without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. He has averaged just 3.6 points with 4.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his five appearances since Irving last took the floor – Simmons missed the previous five games with the same knee injury.
Though his ineffectiveness without the superstar safety net was always an issue, it is only now being highlighted since those two are not there to alleviate the pressure. Brooklyn has a minus-13.9 net rating when Simmons is on the floor without either Durant or Irving. While still in the red, their rating without any of the three is six points better per 100 possessions at minus-7.9.
That is as damning of a trend as any the Nets have dealt with during this turbulent season.
“Last year was difficult because you didn’t know who you had,” Niang continued. “And then the trade deadline’s coming up and everybody’s walking in like, “Well, who’s getting attached to him that’s going? So you just had that uneasy feeling. Now, it’s just like…you know who you’re going into war with every single night.”
Simmons missed the entire 2022 season with a combination of his mental health issues, the back injury, and a contract holdout which resulted in a legal battle.
Niang expressed these feelings while acknowledging the Sixers trading away two-time All-Defensive star Matisse Thybulle. Like Simmons, is an offensive liability, though Simmons still offers more when he is fully healthy which he has not been for some time and may not be.
Nets Get Troubling Update on Ben Simmons
Brooklyn returns from the All-Star break almost whole. Their injury report for their tilt against the Chicago Bulls has a rather conspicuous name on it: Ben Simmons.
Simmons is listed as questionable with “knee soreness” despite the long layoff.
“People forget, I had back surgery,” Simmons said ahead of the Nets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on December 23 via the YESNetwork. “It’s not something that’s just automatically you’re good and you’re able to go out there and be yourself. It’s something I’m trying to build and just keep adding up because come playoffs, I gotta be that engine to attack and find my guys.”
That was before the trades of Durant and Irving presented Vaughn with this new set of challenges which he has openly acknowledged.
“It’s going to be some work that we have to do,” Vaughn said after the Nets’ loss to the New York Knicks on February 13 via the team’s official YouTube channel. “You just take a look at what the lineups could potentially look like. You put a big next to Ben, then you got to figure out what the spacing is around him. Then if you put a playmaker next to him, then you got to figure out what Ben looks like without the basketball. Then if you go small with Ben, then you got to figure out can you rebound enough with him…You see the challenges that lie ahead”
It was a veritable nadir for Simmons who saw just 12:41 of game time – his fewest of the season in a game that he has finished.
He saw over 20 minutes in the win over the Miami Heat on February 15 before the break.
What’s Next For Brooklyn
Beyond their tilt against the Bulls and even the rest of this season including the playoffs, the Nets are said to be ready to move on from Simmons. That may be difficult given his exorbitant salary and general perceptions about his level of commitment.
It does not help that James Harden is back to his impact-making ways with the 76ers and almost every reason he has given for wanting out has seemed vindicated.
Are they desperate enough to part with draft capital simply to rid themselves of the headache?