Less than two years ago, Ben Simmons was among the Elite in the NBA. The then-24-year-old was named to his third consecutive All-Star team.
A few months later, in the middle of the Sixers’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Hawks, he would be named to his second NBA All-Defensive first team. His team was two wins away from its first trip to a conference final in 20 years.
Sixers fans know how that series turned out.
23 months and so many trials and tribulations and physical and psychological issues later, Ben Simmons is now struggling for NBA playing time. He is vanishing from relevance, seemingly with each passing day.
Last February, Simmons was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, a team with two bona fide superstars – Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – with 21 All-Star nominations between them.
Over the past month, both stars were traded away: Durant to Phoenix, Irving to the Mavericks.
Will this be an opportunity for Simmons to take a leading role? To hear his comments before Monday’s loss to the Knicks, and his head coach’s words afterwards, highly unlikely.
Simmons told the New York Daily News Monday morning that he has “no idea” what his role is after the two trades.
“Everything’s been changing all year, so it’s hard to really understand what’s going on,” he said. “But hopefully we find some rhythm and consistency. It’s different. It’s a different experience (coming off the bench). So whatever the team needs from us to win, I’m willing to do that."
Monday night, he played just 12:41, and went 1-for-2 from the floor, plus three rebounds, two assists. Miles away from the numbers he put up just two seasons earlier with the Sixers. Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn gave the verbal equivalent of throwing up his hands when asked about Simmons’ current role.
“It’s going to be some work that we have to do. Because, you just take a look at what the lineups could potentially look like. You put another big next to Ben, then you got to figure out what the spacing is around him. Then, if you put another playmaker next to him, then you got to figure out what Ben looks like without the basketball. Then, if you go small with Ben, then you have to figure out can you rebound enough with him?”
That is not a vote of confidence. He’s basically saying he has no idea how to put his highest-paid player – he has two years and $78 million remaining on his current deal – in a position to provide value on the floor.
The team added four players in the Durant and Irving trades: Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith from Dallas, Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges from Phoenix. All four started Monday night. Simmons was the fifth player off the Nets’ bench. In the three Nets games since the trade deadline, he is averaging a bit more than 16 minutes a game.
Whatever way you feel about Simmons, this is a fall as precipitous as we’ve seen in a long time in the NBA. A top-tier player approaching his prime, seemingly still on his ascent as an athlete, completely bottoming out.
And barring a dramatic turnaround, he may soon go from 3-time All-Star to former NBA All-Star in a New York minute.