One of the few silver linings from this disastrous Hornets season is that it has become abundantly clear that the team is nowhere near competing, and is basically back to square one of their rebuild. It’s a silver lining in the sense that it provided clarity and there’s no reason to cling to the hope of grinding their way into the play-in.
With this clarity comes unique and unorthodox opportunities to improve the team for the future. While the rest of the league zigs, the Hornets can afford to zag. Now is the time to be different, to think outside the box, and to take some low-risk gambles that could pay off with huge rewards.
One such gamble, that I’ve advocated for in the past, is trading for Ben Simmons. Simmons has been viewed as untradable around the league, as he has only played in a combined 50 games since the 2021 playoffs, due to a combination of holding out, mental health, and physical health. Simmons simply has not been able to stay on the court and is in the fourth year of a five-year, $177 million extension that he signed in 2019.
These factors and more have turned Simmons into a toxic asset around the league, as it’s impossible to pay that much money for a player so unreliable. But the Hornets wouldn’t really need to rely on Simmons, per se.
Why would the Nets do this?
The Hornets could call up the Nets and offer them a chance to get off of Simmons’ contract and start their team fresh with a massive salary off their books. Charlotte has plenty of expiring contracts they could send back to make the deal work and would only require some draft pick equity in return for essentially doing the Nets a favor.
The Nets have been trying to build a contender, and can’t bottom out since they’ve traded their own first-round picks. Getting rid of Simmons a year and a half early would offer them the financial flexibility to be more active this summer and possibly chase the star they’ve been coveting.
Why would the Hornets do this?
The benefit to the Hornets is twofold. For one, they will be building around young players for at least a couple of seasons and will have extra money to dole out, some of which could go to Simmons. In taking on the contract, Charlotte would also gain a pick, or multiple draft picks that would be helpful tools for building down the road.
On top of those benefits, the big potential payoff would be recouping Simmons’ value as a player. The Hornets can provide him with the best possible scenario to bolster his confidence and drown out any outside noise. Charlotte is an NBA wasteland where he can avoid the limelight and just go out and play.
There will be no playoff pressure - or even pressure to win at all in the short term. Simmons can readjust to the rigors of playing a full NBA season without any unnecessary distractions.
The dream scenario for the Hornets is that this allows him to get back in shape, and get back to being a productive basketball player. Before his holdout in 2021, Simmons had made the All-Star Game three years in a row, had made an All-NBA team, and made two All-Defense teams all by the age of 24.
The jump shot has, and likely never will be there for Simmons, but he’s been an incredible player despite that. At his peak, he was averaging 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists per game while leading the league in steals and being in the DPOY race every year.
If the Hornets can get something close to that version of Ben Simmons this could be a franchise-altering move. Simmons would be the perfect point forward, anchoring the defense along with Mark Williams, and being a secondary creator on offense next to LaMelo Ball. He’d fit right in with the run-and-gun mentality and could help Brandon Miller on both ends.
This may be wishful thinking, and there’s a chance that Simmons never returns to that form. But that’s why it’s such a low-risk move. The potential reward is beyond worth it, and the Hornets would be wise to be proactive and try to pull off this move while they can.