Could we see Ben Simmons' resurgence in Brooklyn this season?
After falling out with the Philadelphia 76ers and subsequently moved in a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, how will Simmons' role look like on his new team?
It’s difficult to imagine a better ending to Ben Simmons’ acrimonious and drawn out absence from the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 25 year old earned three consecutive All-Star selections between 2019 and 2021, yet a disastrous playoff campaign in 2021 saw him fall out with the 76ers organisation. Simmons’ passing abilities and back to back All-Defensive First Team selections became a distant thought when Phildelphia suffered a disappointing loss to the Atlanta Hawks, in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals.
In that fateful series against the Hawks, Simmons was filling the stat sheet as usual, with averages of 6.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists across the seven games. However, it was his scoring that ultimately made headlines, and for all the wrong reasons. Simmons averaged a paltry 9.9 points against Atlanta, which might not sound that alarming at face value, but his woes were compounded by lowlight reel-worthy moments that made him an easy target for criticism.
The Aussie shot made just 15 of 45 free throws throughout the series, at a 33% clip, and his shooting struggles came to a climax in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Facing the prospect of a wide open layup with Philadelphia leading 88-86, Simmons saw defender Trae Young rushing towards him, and handed the ball off to countryman Matisse Thybulle. The 6’11 Simmons didn’t fancy another trip to the free throw line, and his response to Young - a 6’1 guard - was easy material for social media critics.
Under normal circumstances one possession wouldn’t have major ramifications on a player’s career, but tensions flared when Philadelphia faced the press, after yet another premature playoff exit. 76ers star Joel Embiid appeared to throw Simmons under the bus, when he tacitly pointed to the layup that never was. The Aussie couldn’t find much support from his boss either, as 76ers coach Doc Rivers echoed Embiid’s thoughts in a more subtle manner.
“I don’t know the answer to that right now,” Rivers responded, when asked if Simmons could be the starting point guard on a championship-caliber team.
Prior to the start of the 2021-22 season, Philadelphia insider Keith Pompey reported that Ben Simmons “told the 76ers he no longer wants to be part of the team and doesn't plan on reporting to training camp”. While it seemed incredulous at the time that a player of Simmons’ caliber might be missing in action, and not due to injury, he ultimately never played another game for the 76ers again.
Philadelphia executive Daryl Morey was faced with a tough predicament where he needed to move Simmons, and his contract worth $US147 million over the next four seasons, but buyers weren’t exactly lining up. Embiid is in the prime of his career and currently the bookmakers’ favourite to win the MVP award, so time was of the essence for Philadelphia to strike a deal. Morey held out until the trade deadline for a high quality offer, and it arguably paid off.
The 76ers found an unlikely trade partner in Eastern Conference rival Brooklyn, whose general manager happens to be New Zealand native Sean Marks. An explosive report from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer opened the door for Morey to make a run at James Harden, who was recruited to be a member of Brooklyn’s “big three” - alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. However, with the Nets struggling to make their mark on the Eastern Conference, where they currently sit in eighth place, Harden reportedly became dissatisfied. His concerns extended well beyond regular season games though. The former Houston Rocket reportedly didn’t enjoy living in Brooklyn, and Kyrie Irving’s part-time playing status was a source of tension. After refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and hence violating vaccine mandates in the city of New York, Irving has played 14 games in the 2021-22 season.
Regardless of Harden’s motives, Sean Marks felt compelled to make a move, and Simmons was quietly waiting in NBA purgatory for a fresh start. In a trade centred around Simmons and Harden, the Nets also received Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first round draft picks. It’s objectively a win win for both parties, since Brooklyn was in need of a retool to their core beyond Harden, while Philadelphia faced the opportunity cost of having Simmons sit out the season. Now, the only question that remains is, how well does Simmons fit in Brooklyn?
A new beginning
The prospect of Patty Mills mentoring Simmons will be music to the ears of Aussie basketball fans. If there’s one man who can convince the Victorian to suit up for the Australian Boomers and make a long-awaited return to the international scene, it’s Australia’s opening ceremony flag bearer from the Tokyo Olympics.
“I’ve got his back,” Mills had shared with a slight smile. “I’ve always had his back and now I have the opportunity to be with him. I've had his back from afar and I wish I was with him earlier in his career, but being able to do what I can from afar. I’m excited to be able to, be with him in this aspect and help him in any way necessary, that’s how it’s always kind of been.
“But, at the end of the day I’m excited for this, and I know he is as well. For us to come together, I think it’s going to be great for both of us. For me, to continue to learn things and I think for me to share with him as much as I can, as a professional and as an athlete.”
On the court, we all know what Ben Simmons can do. The 6’11 point forward is a nightly triple double threat and one of the league’s premier defenders, boasting two consecutive All-Defensive First Team selections. However, we often hear about what he can’t do, and that’s to score beyond the paint. On a team with Irving, Durant, Joe Harris, Mills and fellow former Sixer Seth Curry, Simmons’ one glaring weakness might just be shielded.
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