NEW YORK — The Nets have officially lost the Ben Simmons trade.
It’s the biggest misstep by an organization that went all-in on star power a year and a half ago, only to nuke the entire project when Kyrie Irving requested a trade 48 hours ahead of the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline.
The Nets traded a disgruntled James Harden for what they hoped would be a promising foundational piece in Simmons, who had missed the entire first half of the 2021-22 season in Philadelphia citing mental health issues.
Back issues kept him out the remainder of that season when he arrived in Brooklyn — and they’ll shut him down the rest of the way this time around, too.
The Nets announced on Friday that Simmons has been diagnosed with a nerve impingement in his lower back. In a statement, the team said he will “remain out of action while we determine the best long-term course of treatment.”
Simmons had already missed 15 straight games coming out of the nine-day NBA All-Star break layoff due to what the team called left knee/back soreness. He had fluid drained from his left knee and received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection both he and the Nets hoped would help him get through the back pain.
A lot like the epidural he received last March to help him work through the herniated disk, however, the injection did not deliver the desired results.
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn reiterated the team had “zero conversations” about shutting Simmons down four times since the All-Star break, but after he explained Simmons had yet to practice in a team setting on Tuesday, it became impossible to envision a scenario where the embattled forward would be clear to play at a high level in must-win games for Brooklyn’s playoff hopes.
Now his status — and his contract — hover like a dark cloud above Barclays Center.
Simmons’ back issues have erased any modicum of trade value a once-promising two-way player has this offseason. He is due $77 million over the next two seasons, but he has been unable to stay healthy enough to consistently play in games.
And when he did play, his impact was negligible, if not harmful to the Nets during extended stretches: Simmons has averaged six points, six rebounds and six assists through 42 games for the Nets. He was moved to a bench role in favor of far less decorated players who have proven themselves more impactful in their minutes, and his head coach has explained to the media in detail the difficulties of finding lineups that both work to Simmons’ strengths and still give the team a good chance to win.
“It’s going to be some work that we have to do,” Vaughn when asked about how Simmons fits into the new-look Nets’ rotation after the deadline. “You just take a look at what the lineups could potentially look like.
“You put a big next to Ben, then you got to figure out what the spacing is around him. Then if you put a 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 got to figure out can you rebound enough with him. … You see the challenges that lie ahead.”
The challenge that lies ahead in Brooklyn is extracting what’s left of Simmons — whether that’s trade value or actual impact on the court. He was once a dominant two-way player who averaged 16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two blocks to go with three All-Star appearances and two First-Team All-Defense honors in his four seasons in Philadelphia.
Simmons is on pace to miss the rest of the season. It’s unclear if he will remain in a Brooklyn Nets jersey moving forward — or if there are any takers out there willing to make the same gamble the Nets made trading for him in the first place.