The Brooklyn Nets are not interested in rebuilding from the ground up after the departure of superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But they are facing an uphill climb back to contention with costly excess baggage that they can’t get rid of — former no. 1 overall pick and three-time All-Star Ben Simmons.
The hope of Simmons returning to his old form is rapidly vanishing by the day.
Simmons came off the bench for the third game in a row and was a non-factor as the Brooklyn Nets saw their nine-game winning streak over the New York Knicks get snapped Monday night.
His minutes have shrunk over his last three games from 20 to 16 and 13 Monday night, including garbage minutes.
Against the Knicks, Simmons was the third Nets player off the bench and hardly made an impact that could have helped his case to play more.
Simmons was minus-4 against the Knicks which extended his streak of negative net rating to seven straight games.
The arrival of Dorian Finney-Smith, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson, three versatile wings who can shoot better than Simmons, have rendered him useless.
The Nets hoped Simmons would serve as rim protector when rising center Nic Claxton gets his customary rest. But Jalen Brunson and the Knicks repeatedly attacked the rim when Simmons was on the floor.
Brooklyn coach Jacque Vaughn tried to pair Simmons with another big to control the boards.
“I didn’t like that rhythm of the game because we were not scoring enough at that time,” Vaughn said.
Simmons’ offensive flaws were not as obvious as it is now when Durant and Irving are around. If Simmons doesn’t improve — show aggressiveness to attack the rim and have a semblance of an offensive threat — Vaughn will have a tougher time making him part of the rotation.
“What we want from each guy is to give everything, every ounce that they’ve got, every single game,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “And all 16 guys are in that bucket.”
“And trying to figure out what lineup fits around Ben, what position fits for Ben, how we can make him look good at every opportunity. That’s the goal, and I’m still trying to figure that out. That’s on me to figure it out. But overall, as a team, we’re going to try to find lineups to figure it out.”
Simmons is in the third season of a $177 million, five-year deal that is quickly turning out to be the worst contract in the NBA. With zero value around the league, the Nets will have to cough up draft assets to unload him. So, rebuilding his value is the more prudent thing to do.
But doing that while competing for a playoff berth is a tricky balancing act.
“It’s gonna be some work that we have to do because you just take a look at what the lineups could potentially look like,” Vaughn said. “You put another big next to Ben, then you’ve gotta figure out what the spacing is around him. Then if you put another playmaker next to Ben, then you’ve gotta figure out what Ben looks like without the basketball.”
“Then if you go small with Ben, you’ve gotta figure out if you can rebound enough with him. So the challenges are ahead of us. We’ll look at them head-on. We’ll figure it out. We have the personnel to figure it out. Whether it is me mixing and matching throughout different pieces of the game and allowing him to have a group and run with a group, we’ll figure out that part. But you see the challenges that lie ahead.”
In short, Simmons needs to shape up or he’ll soon run out of options.
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