No one knows when Ben Simmons will make his debut for the Brooklyn Nets. But as it stands, we know the Nets will have Kyrie Irving available just once before March 6. How those two facts relate will have a lot to do with how far Brooklyn ultimately advances in the NBA playoffs.
That is presuming they can right the ship in time to get into them in the first place.
The Nets have lost 11 straight games to plummet into the play-in portion of the Eastern Conference standings. Brooklyn was 21–8 and led the East by 2.5 games when they announced on Dec. 17 that Irving would return as a part-time player.
Since then, the Nets are 8–19 and have sunk to eighth in the conference. Brooklyn is three games behind the Boston Celtics for sixth and 3.5 ahead of the 11th-place Washington Wizards. Team officials deny it, but the numbers make it difficult not to see a causal link.
The freefall of the Nets isn’t all Kyrie Irving’s fault
In the 14 games Kyrie Irving has played, the Brooklyn is 4–10. But there is another reason the Nets have been ghastly the last few weeks.
Since Kevin Durant sprained the MCL in his left knee, Brooklyn is 2–12. Both of those wins came when Irving was available; at Washington on Jan. 19 and on the road against the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 21. Because of New York City’s vaccine mandate, Irving is unavailable for home games. It’s not a coincidence the Nets haven’t won at home since Jan. 15 against the New Orleans Hornets, the game Durant’s injury occurred.
The James Harden drama didn’t help team cohesion, either.
But unless conditions in the city change, Irving can participate in just eight of Brooklyn’s remaining 26 games. Regardless of when Ben Simmons plays, there will be little time for the two to develop an on-court rapport.
Durant is out at least through the All-Star break, and Simmons won’t play before then, either. Irving’s next game can’t be until Feb. 26 at the Milwaukee Bucks.
Meet the new Big Three, even less available than the old Big Three.
Ben Simmons’ status is officially changed
The ink is finally dry on the trade that brought Ben Simmons to Brooklyn and sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Nets tweeted their injury report for their Feb. 14 home game against the Sacramento Kings that included this notation about their newly acquired All-Star:
Ben Simmons: Return to competition reconditioning — OUT
That’s progress from four months of “not with team” notations with the 76ers. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, agent Rich Paul said Simmons would need time to get into game shape. It’s probably not until early March that Brooklyn fans will get their first look at the three-time All-Star in a Nets uniform.
The team has a three-game road trip to Boston, the Charlotte Hornets, and (gulp!) Philadelphia from March 6–10. Do the Nets want to throw their newest star to the wolves of the notoriously welcoming Philly horde?
Barring a change in New York’s mandates, the only other games available for Simmons to acquaint himself with Kyrie Irving are March 15 at Orlando, March 23 at Memphis, March 26 at Miami, and April 2 at Atlanta.
It’s probably too optimistic to expect Simmons to be ready for the Milwaukee trip on Feb. 26, while Irving can’t go to Toronto on March 1 or Madison Square Garden on April 6 unless mandates change.
On the positive flip, Simmons and Durant will have ample opportunities to mesh during Brooklyn’s remaining schedule at Barclays Center. That’s something.
Kyrie Irving is unrepentant but hopeful
On Feb. 12 at Miami, the Nets dropped their 11th straight game. Afterward, Kyrie Irving discussed his situation. While the seven-time All-Star wishes he could play regularly, he doesn’t regret his stance, per Nick Friedell of ESPN.
“There’s no guilt that I feel,” Irving said. “I’m the only player that has to deal with this in New York City because I play there. If I was anywhere else in another city, then it probably wouldn’t be the same circumstances.
“With that being said, I still wish I could be out there at home. And some people say it’s as simple as, ‘Hey, go get this, go get the shot.’ No, it’s not as simple as that for me in my life, but ultimately still praying for a better outcome.”
Ben Simmons was unvaccinated when he reported to the 76ers in late October. But according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, the Australian was vaccinated well before the trade deadline on Feb. 10. The specter of a second unvaccinated player requiring rotation adjustments won’t hang over the Nets.
When he makes his debut, Brooklyn has a player who can handle the point guard responsibilities at home games and serve as a complementary playmaker with Irving when both are in the lineup.
The much-hyped Big Three of Kyrie Irving, Durant, and Harden played 16 games. The new grouping with Ben Simmons will be fortunate to get a handful of games on the court as a trio before the play-in tournament. Or maybe Durant’s return will be enough for the Brooklyn Nets to make a run back into the top six in the East.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.