It was just over 15 months ago when business talks in Houston involving disgruntled superstar James Harden reached a boil, and a package from Philadelphia to young superstar Ben Simmons reached the finals. Obviously, rockets had at least some interest in January 2021.
Now, with the calendar shifting to May 2022, is that still the case?
Today, there are definitely reasons why the Rockets and other teams exist less benefit. After all, Simmons didn’t play in a single game during the 2021-22 season due to a combination of mental issues and a long-term back injury. This adds quite a bit of uncertainty to his future forecast. On the other hand, Simmons is still only 25 years old, and on paper, he still has his early years in the NBA ahead of him. While interest in Simmons is declining, there is a case to be demonstrated that it should not be zero.
With Brooklyn (where Simmons is now under contract) enjoying a heightened sense of winning urgency based on veteran All-Star duo Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, many have speculated post-playoff that Simmons could become a commercial chip to cement that slate.
To that end, Ranger NBA insider Kevin O’Connor recently wrote about a potential Rockets Nets trade involving Simmons:
Perhaps a young team like Houston will revisit Simmons’ trade because their track is on the same schedule as Galen Green. A package containing a mix of Eric Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate and Christian Wood with draft picks can provide Brooklyn with the depth and variety needed to make other moves.
Assuming none of these picks are as premium assets as Houston’s first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, that’s not impossible. However, that could still be a huge risk for Rockets general manager Raphael Stone.
As of now, Houston is in a position to provide a significant salary cap in the 2023 season. On the other hand, Simmons is due $37.9 million guaranteed in the 2023-24 season and $40.3 million in 2024-25. Given the new wave of uncertainty surrounding Simmons, Stone will likely want to feel confident he can easily ditch Simmons in 2023 to re-establish salary cap flexibility, if it doesn’t work out.
In theory, if Simmons goes through a second straight season with major issues with his mental state and/or his back, the remaining two years of this decade could turn out to be as stressful as what the Rockets went through with John Wall over the past year.
In January 2021, while Simmons certainly wasn’t seen as a perfect player, there weren’t nearly the same concerns about its core availability. In other words, even in a worst-case scenario where the fit turned out to be poor, it was reasonable to assume that it could be traded elsewhere at a later date. Suddenly, this is no longer the case. By comparison, all Gordon, Wood, and Tate contracts are expired and can be easily transferred or abandoned, if payroll room is needed for promotion.
It’s an unusual circumstance, sure, because it was just over two months ago when Simmons was rated highly enough to be the key piece going to Brooklyn in a massive deal that sent Harden to the 76ers. But for a Houston team with relatively clean paybooks after next season, Simmons could pose a lot of financial risk to get — even given Stone’s former interest and inherently low asking price.
The Rockets may also want the Simmons to stick to the Nets due to the fact that Houston controls Brooklyn Project assets in the first round through 2027, and the growing variance in Simmons’ results could boost the odds of the Rockets eventually landing a high first-round pick.
The deal shouldn’t be considered impossible, as Houston has previously shown interest, and there appears to be a positive relationship between Simmons’ agent (Rich Paul) and Stone. But the Rockets will likely have a level of confidence that 2022-23 will be different for Simmons than 2021-22, and from the outside, it’s hard to imagine what justifies that confidence before seeing Simmons in the NBA games.