Why waiting to move Ben Simmons’ $40.3 million expiring contract may be the right decision for the Nets

NEW YORK — As of Wednesday afternoon, on the fourth day of NBA free agency, the Brooklyn Nets have yet to sign another player to the roster. Outside of center Nic Claxton, who agreed to return to the team on a new four-year, $100 million deal, and Keita Bates-Diop, who picked up his $2.6 million player option for next season, there have been no updates regarding the status of the team’s other notable free agents, such as Lonnie Walker IV, Trendon Warford and Dennis Smith Jr.

Whether Walker, Watford or Smith return to Brooklyn next season is unknown at this time. At this point it appears their fate will not be decided until the later stages of the current free agency cycle. The Nets are still expected to explore the possibility of trading veterans such as Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Bojan Bogdanovic to take on unwanted contracts, shed salary and continue to add future draft capital.

But what of often-injured Ben Simmons, who enters next season on a massive $40.3 million expiring contract?

Expected to enter a full rebuild next season after trading star forward Mikal Bridges to the New York Knicks last week, that is a question Brooklyn will likely have to answer sooner rather than later. The Nets’ direction is clear. All things considered; the 27-year-old is probably not part of the team’s long-term plan.

In his healthier days with the Philadelphia 76ers, Simmons was a three-time All-Star, a two-time All-Defensive First Team selection and an All-NBA Third Team selection in 2020. The issue is, Simmons has rarely been healthy since being traded to the Nets in 2022.

Simmons played in just 15 games last season because of a pinched nerve in his lower back, averaging 6.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists, and has appeared in 57 total games since dawning a Brooklyn uniform, earning a whopping $78 million over that span. He underwent a successful microscopic partial discectomy in March, is already well into the rehabilitation process at this point and is expected to be available at the start of next season, according to general manager Sean Marks.

The Nets went 7-8 with Simmons in the lineup last season.

“With Ben it’s very unfortunate,” Marks said. “We looked like we were a completely different team when Ben was healthy out there. So, it’s paramount that we get him back and we get him healthy. And I think Ben wants it just as much, if not more than anybody else. But time will tell on him and how he progresses through summer. There’s no reason to think he won’t be, though.”

While it makes sense for Brooklyn to move Simmons’ contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agency in 2025-26 and walks for nothing, there are a few reasons why doing so would be difficult right now. Not only is his injury history a major concern for any team expecting him to contribute next season, but his recent production when healthy is the lowest it has been at any point in his career — even worse than his rookie season with the 76ers in 2017-18. He can still be a valuable defender and facilitator but adds little individual offense and his jumper remains non-existent.

Few teams, especially contenders, would be willing to trade for Simmons, let alone extend him, until he can stay healthy and prove to be more impactful. Paying him a guaranteed $40.3 million this season, for what will essentially be a one-year rental, is a risky proposition for some because of the uncertainty he brings.

A rebuilding team that is not too worried about Simmons’ on-court production could take on his salary for a year and simply let him walk next summer if he fails to return to form. However, if the Nets want to maximize his value, it may be in their best interest to have him on the roster at the start of next season and pray he undergoes some form of resurgence.

If Simmons is playing well and staying healthy through Brooklyn’s first handful of games next season, his trade value would be much higher compared to where it is now. On the other hand, if he plays poorly and is not contributing much, they could slide him down the bench and wait for the right suitor to come along.

Worst case scenario: The Nets eat Simmons’ 2024-25 salary, he walks free agency next summer and the franchise looks forward to building up the roster in 2025-26 with some of the cap space created by his troublesome contract finally being off the books.