It has now been 382 days since Ben Simmons played competitive basketball.
382 days since That pass, That defeat, and That press conferences.
Now, in a new city where things should get better, Simmons stares at a crossroads that – without being unnecessarily dramatic – could decide the rest of his career.
Kevin Durant wants to get out of Brooklyn. Kyrie Irving could also be on the move, and very quickly what was supposed to be a perfect basketball situation for Simmons presents itself as a nightmare at first, with a hint of silver.
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HOW DID WE GET HERE?
“I don’t mind,” LeBron James said in 2015 of comparisons being made between him and Simmons, who was a freshman at LSU at the time.
Simmons carried that hype to the NBA, where he was selected with the No. 1 pick, before winning Rookie of the Year in 2018 after completing his “real” rookie year.
The superstar arc was erected.
Three consecutive All-Star nods followed, including in his last active year in Philadelphia, but the Australian was on average career lows in points, rebounds and assists as the conversation started to turn.
It was before that 2020-21 campaign when Simmons was driven into a potential James Harden trade.
He was no longer untouchable.
Simmons would never become LeBron James. But what was once a legitimate debate about ‘who do you prefer?’ between Simmons and Joel Embiid, now had a fairly simple answer.
That lingering truth reached its climax against the Atlanta Hawks before Simmons decided, for mental health reasons, that he had to leave Philadelphia.
So he sat. And sat. And sit down some more.
And then suddenly, thanks to some other NBA star drama — I know, shock — all that sitting paid off.
They say good things come to those who wait.
Simmons waited so long to land in Brooklyn alongside two of the most gifted scorers in NBA history; the perfect one-two punch to complement the elite play and defense the Australian can provide to an NBA contender.
Scary, right? Even Simmons thought so.
But instead of a three-headed monster leading Brooklyn to its first-ever title, Simmons never got on the field—except rebounding for his teammates—when Durant and Irving were swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
It was OK, though, as Simmons would be healthy for the start of the 2022-23 season, and that trio, at least on paper, still made sense.
But nothing really makes sense in the NBA.
So Brooklyn and Irving battled for an extension, before the star signed on for a year. That disaster was averted just long enough for social media pages to post what Nets’ starting grid would look like next season, before Durant dropped his bombshell.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Who knows? Durant still wants to leave, but Brooklyn is reportedly waiting for an offer that blows them away. What that actually looks like after Rudy Gobert’s mammoth capture is difficult to figure out.
Irving is nearby. But who knows for how long. And soon Simmons would find himself in a situation like never before.
To make matters worse, Simmons – already a relatively unpopular figure in the NBA world – is also why Brooklyn’s potential signing for Durant is limited.
Due to his Designated Rookie extension, Simmons’ place on the roster means that no other player with the same contract type can come to Brooklyn while the Australian is there.
That means players like Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, Trae Young, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. be off the table unless the Nets Simmons can move too.
The problem is that Simmons’ trade value has never been this low.
Simmons had to be packed with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks for Philadelphia to get a past James Harden.
Since then, Simmons’ stock has only continued to fall, and even if Durant and Irving left, it probably wouldn’t make sense for Brooklyn to part with Simmons.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
According to an Instagram post uploaded just before Durant’s trading request, Simmons was feeling “incredible” as he geared up for a fresh start in Brooklyn.
Not long after, Simmons’ Instagram account was deactivated and the idea of a fresh start came up with a slew of questions.
Simmons could theoretically be moved in a deal to free up that Designated Rookie spot, or he could be left in Brooklyn without Durant and Irving, with a new cast and a completely different role.
And here we come to a kind of crossroads.
In September last year, it was reported that Simmons’ camp wanted the point guard to be exchanged for a team built around him. Instead, he ended up in Brooklyn, where he would never become “the guy.”
And that seemed like a good match, given everything he’d been through.
But play this game with me.
Let’s say Durant goes to Phoenix for the sake of argument (you could do this with any number of teams). In a deal likely to see Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton come to Brooklyn, as well as a string of draft picks.
And with Durant gone, let’s assume Irving will either disappear or escape.
With everyone healthy, the lineup looks like this: Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Joe Harris, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton.
It may not be a title contender. And it certainly wouldn’t be a team built just for Simmons. At least not publicly. But man, it makes a lot of sense when you consider the defense and the three point shooting he would have around him.
You could even argue that Simmons would be the best player on that team, where he could establish himself as someone who wants to keep Brooklyn, or increase his value enough to make a trade really meaningful.
In some ways, this is the only path for Simmons to reach the heights once expected of him. The only way to become ‘the guy’ again.
Of course it should be a Simmons who is not afraid of the moment, to make a mistake, take a shot and miss. And we don’t know Simmons still exists. Or ever did.
But we could find out in a second.
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