If Brooklyn Nets star Ben Simmons was being honest about appreciating being called out when it is warranted, then his team may find the locker room fit with Philadelphia 76ers forward Georges Niang, 29, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer. With the firing of head coach Doc Rivers, Niang could be on the move.
He is finishing a two-year, $6.8 million contract and could be in the Nets’ price range.
“With the $5 million taxpayer MLE likely to be their top spending tool, it won’t be easy for the Nets to address their scoring needs,” wrote Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report on May 27 identifying ‘ambitious’ free agent targets for every team. “Niang might be as good as it gets.”
Niang averaged 8.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.0 assists for Philly during the regular season while canning 40% of his threes or better for the sixth consecutive year.
He had a reduced role in the postseason but still sunk over 46% of his triples. The potential issue could be that Niang’s brand of criticism wasn’t exactly trying to light a fire under the mercurial Simmons, as much as point to him as an underlying cause of the Sixers’ dysfunction during the latter’s tenure.
“Ben Simmons kind of handicapped us at the beginning of last year,” Niang said on the ‘John Kincaide Show’ on 97.5 The Fan on February 24. “Last year was difficult because you didn’t know who you had.”
Simmons missed the entire 2021-22 campaign with a back injury and mental health issues.
“I like to be called out,” Simmons said via YES Network following the Nets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on December 23. “Especially when I’m not contributing to helping the team win. So, for me, I want to be able to improve in certain areas to help this team.”
Simmons averaged 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists while appearing in 42 games before being shut down with back inflammation, which was always possible in his recovery. Niang did list all the things the Sixers missed with Simmons sidelined, things the Nets need going into next season.
“You have to figure it out where other role players have to step up and replace the passing, dribbling rebounding, defense,” Niang said.
Ben Simmons Potentially Turning New Leaf
Brooklyn has Simmons under contract for the next two seasons with more than $78 million owed to him. And, with little in the way of impactful production over the last two years, it is unlikely that they will be able to flip his contract without attaching additional assets such as first-round picks.
The good news is that it appears Simmons, 26, has been more dedicated side during his rehab.
“The group around Ben has noticed a complete change in Ben’s focus and mentality [through] this rehab and how he has attacked it and engaged with everything,” reported Brian Lewis of The New York Post on May 17.
Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. also vouched for Simmons’ timeline having undergone a similar procedure.
If the Nets can get Simmons back to full strength, it could elevate this group’s ceiling.
A Healthy Ben Simmons Could Unlock Nets
Brooklyn’s post-trade deadline rotations focused on two-way players and saw the breakout of Mikal Bridges, the continued development of Cameron Johnson, and flashes of what could be with Cameron Thomas all while Nic Claxton was making his case for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
What that younger group of players lacked was a true playmaker, relying instead on Spencer Dinwiddie,30, who ranked second in the NBA with 10.9 assists per game from March 10 on. But Dinwiddie is heading into the final year of his three-year $54 million contract.
An extension could cost up to $128 million, per former Nets executive Bobby Marks.
Simmons — the only player with an All-Star appearance on the Nets’ roster — could be the answer if he could manage to regain his health and confidence.