The Brooklyn Nets might have a pathway from under Ben Simmons’ hefty contract.
“Because his performance and availability have cratered since leaving the Philadelphia 76ers, Simmons may very well have the league’s worst contract,” explains Grant Hughes for Bleacher Report. “Combined with [Chicago Bulls guard Zach] LaVine‘s value as a high-end scorer, which the Nets need on a roster full of three-and-D wings, that’s what earns Chicago four first-rounders and Cam Thomas in the exchange.”
2023 1st Rd Pick
2025 1st Rd Pick (via PHX)
2027 1st Rd Pick (HOU owns swap rights)
2027 1st Rd Pick (via PHI)
“Those firsts coming from the Nets aren’t all golden tickets,” Hughes notes. “They mostly come from other teams and may not return high-lottery value, though it isn’t the worst idea to bet that the Phoenix Suns will come apart by 2025 or that the Sixers will be done contending in 2027. You might argue that taking on Simmons’ money should earn Chicago more draft capital, but it’s not like LaVine’s deal is some great bargain. He’s due $178.1 million over the next four seasons and comes with real durability concerns due to multiple knee surgeries.”
LaVine, 28, is in the first year of a five-year, $215 million contract. He has gotten back to his All-Star form averaging 34.1 points on 65.8% true shooting while knocking down 47.2% of his threes over his last seven games after a slow start to the campaign. He entered the year with little in the way of an offseason and had to play himself into shape.
There is little doubt he is all the way back.
LaVine has missed just four games all season and none since November 6 perhaps allaying concerns about his health – which could hurt the odds of a deal.
“The first presumption this trade requires is the trickiest: The Bulls need to acknowledge that the way to the top, in a long-term sense, requires them to head for the bottom,” says Hughes. “Based on the team’s multi-year track record of fighting hard to stay in the middle, that’s a big ask.”
Chicago got a big win over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves and has won three of their last four games. That has them back in the Play-In Tournament but with just a 0.5-game margin. And, making only minimal additions over the last two trade deadlines and this past offseason, their front office pushed a message of continuity.
That could change if they fail to make the postseason which could benefit the Nets who were mentioned before the deadline as a team to keep an eye on if LaVine came available.
Zach LaVine Could Be Nets’ ‘First-Option Offensive Weapon’
“The Bulls make the first move toward starting over…and the Nets get the first-option offensive weapon they need alongside Mikal Bridges and a potentially elite collection of defenders,” argues Hughes. “If any team can hide LaVine’s weaknesses on that end, it’s the one with Nic Claxton, Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale, and Bridges.”
Brooklyn has lost three of their last five hitting the skids at the worst time with just 12 more games in the regular season before the playoffs start.
Bridges has been a revelation averaging 26.1 points while knocking down 44.4% of his looks from deep adding 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.0 steals. Three other Nets are averaging double-figures but none putting up more than 18 points per game.
If they are going to make a surprise run in the postseason, someone has to step up.
Teammate Spencer Dinwiddie is currently tasked with being a more traditional point guard with mixed results and he averaged over 20 PPG for an entire season with the Nets in 2020.
A Double-Edged Sword
This deal is built around the benefit of moving off Simmons who is averaging 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists this season, well below expectations for a three-time All-Star and someone owed over $78 million over the next two seasons who has not been able to suit up since before the All-Break.
But the issue is Thomas, 21, who has shown legitimate scoring chops when given the chance.
“Nobody’s arguing that Thomas has multiple All-Star nods in his future,” Hughes writes, “but he’s much more than a throw-in here.”
Hughes notes the similarities between LaVine and Thomas at the same age which could mean that the Nets are deciding between the present and the future. That again brings the focus back to their plans for Bridges.
They could get a haul for Bridges and follow a timeline that better fits Thomas or build around the former and look to add LaVine as an offensive engine and any number of things in between.