It’s been 321 days since we last saw Ben Simmons on an NBA court as his trade saga and back issues have kept him sidelined since Game 6 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
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After forcing his way out of Philadelphia in a trade for James Harden, Simmons arrived in Brooklyn with hopes of a fresh start on one of the most talented squads in the league, alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But as quickly as he arrived, the Nets’ season was over after getting swept in the first round at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
As the series approached Games 3 and 4 back at Barclays Center, reports swirled that Simmons could make his debut at home, with video emerging from the practice of him dunking and getting shots up.
After missing Game 3, Simmons did not play in Game 4, waking up with soreness in his back, leaving the Nets front office reportedly “exasperated” by the “will he, won’t he” surrounding Simmons’ return.
“When I checked in on this yesterday, basically what I got was exasperation,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on Get Up.
“People involved here are exasperated by this saga because that is what it is. I got the feeling yesterday that it was like waving a white flag,” Windhorst continued. “I know that this might have the appearance of Ben Simmons saying, ‘I don’t want to play, we’re down 3–0,’ but he woke up yesterday with his back hurting. That is what I have been told, and it’s just as simple as that.”
On Wednesday, April 4, The Athletic’s Shams Charania provided an update on the situation, reporting that Simmons was set to undergo surgery on his back on Thursday.
Brooklyn Nets say Ben Simmons will undergo surgery on his back on Thursday.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 4, 2022
The mixed messaging led to plenty of confusion for the team and fans alike, but given the severity of Simmons’ injury, in retrospect, attempting to play during the playoffs made little sense for both sides.
“I mean, I wasn’t really expecting him to play. Like we’ve said all along, he’s trying to improve, he’s working through it,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said.
“Reports that he was playing were from the outside, I don’t know where that came from. So we kind of stick to what we’ve always said; he’s still building himself up, still working through things, still trying to get strong enough and put himself in a position to play.”
Where do the Nets go from here?
The focus now is on getting Simmons healthy.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Simmons is expected to be sidelined for three to four months to make a full recovery after surgery to treat the herniated disk in his back.
Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons is expected to need 3-to-4 months to make a full recovery on back surgery, sources tell ESPN. The expectation is that he’ll be ready to return well ahead of training camp.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 4, 2022
“After consultation with multiple back specialists, it has been determined that the best course of action for Ben’s long-term health is for him to undergo surgery,” the team’s statement read.
Simmons will now have a full offseason to get healthy and a training camp to integrate himself with his teammates on the court, with the Nets likely to open the 2022-23 season as one of the title favorites.
Why a trade doesn’t make sense
The Nets’ 2021-22 season was hardly smooth sailing with Irving’s absence from the majority of their home games due to his vaccination status, Durant’s MCL injury which kept him sidelined for six weeks and Joe Harris’ extended absence due to an ankle injury.
Those ailments limited the team’s consistency as they hobbled into the postseason with a 44-38 record, forcing them to qualify through the Play-In Tournament.
Despite the urgency of trying to win now, this season presented less than ideal conditions for the Nets to make a championship run, often papered over by the sheer talent on their roster.
Do they stand pat? Do they make a move?
As it stands, the Nets have to at least see what they have with Simmons on the floor, as the Australian’s playmaking and elite defensive ability seemingly fills some glaring holes on this roster.
This season, Brooklyn ranked 20th in defensive efficiency, while it was first in both isolation possessions and isolation frequency. Simmons’ defensive versatility and his ability to take the ball out of Irving and Durant’s hands offers the Nets some much-needed variations on offense.
Not to mention, he is under contract for three more years. Bringing Simmons to Brooklyn was a long-term move.
The bigger question is the future of Irving. The seven-time All-Star has a player option worth $36.9 million for next season, which he will likely decline in the hopes of signing a long-term extension. He is eligible for a five-year, $245.6 million deal with the Nets if doesn’t pick up his player option for the 2022-23 season, according to Keith Smith of Spotrac.
“In terms of my extension, man, I don’t really plan on going anywhere,” Irving said recently, committing his long-term future to Brooklyn.
“When I say I’m here with Kev, I think that it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside Joe (Tsai, the owner) and Sean (Marks, the GM) and just our group of family members that we have in our organization.
“So it’s not just about me and Kev, I don’t want to make it just about that. We are cornerstones here, but we have Ben, we have a few other guys under contract.”
With a nucleus of Irving, Durant and Simmons committed to the Nets long-term, Brooklyn will be in the championship picture for many years to come, but first, it has to get everyone on the court at the same time for an extended period.
Nets upcoming free agents
Signing Irving to a contract extension is at the top of the Nets’ priority list this summer. However, they will have a handful of key role players hitting free agency.
Bruce Brown, who excelled on both ends in their first round series against Boston, is set to hit unrestricted free agency, along with veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Goran Dragic. Young center Nicolas Claxton is sure to field some offers from other teams in restricted free agency.
Patty Mills also has a player option worth $6 million for next season.
|Unrestricted free agents||Restricted free agents||Player option||Team option|
|Bruce Brown||Nicolas Claxton||Kyrie Irving||None|
|LaMarcus Aldridge||David Duke Jr.||Patty Mills|
Nets future salaries, roster
|Kevin Durant||$44.1 million||$47.7 million||$51.2 million|
|Kyrie Irving||$36.9 million (PO)||UFA|
|Ben Simmons||$33 million||$37.9 million||$40.3 million|
|Joe Harris||$17.4 million||$18.6 million||$19.9 million|
|Seth Curry||$8.2 million||$8.5 million||UFA|
|Patty Mills||$5.9 million||$6.2 million||UFA|
|Cameron Thomas||$2 million||$2.1 million||$2.2 million (TO)|
|Day’Ron Sharpe||$2 million||$2.1 million||$2.2 million (TO)|
PO = Player option
TO = Team Option
CH = Cap hold
RFA = Restricted free agency
UFA = Unrestricted free agency