Stephen A: Nets Can Win East, But Not Title, Without Ben Simmons

The Nets are in good shape with Kevin Durant performing like the MVP candidate he usually does, and Kyrie Irving perhaps soon eligible to play in home games.Ben Simmons

But they can forget about winning the championship if Ben Simmons doesn’t play, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said. That’s because Simmons, despite his well-known struggles from the perimeter, gives the Nets an extremely versatile defender.

“Don’t worry about shooting the ball, all we need you to do is shut that brother down. He’ll salivate at that,” Smith said. “You give Ben Simmons that assignment, he’ll salivate at that assignment. He don’t want to shoot from the perimeter, and he damn sure don’t want to shoot free throws.”

Nonetheless, Simmons is dealing with a back issue and there are serious doubts as to whether he’ll be able to take the court this season. The Nets (38-35) enter Thursday’s games in eight place in the Eastern Conference, a spot that would put them in the play-in tournament.

Simmons, of course, was acquired in the James Harden trade with the 76ers. He has yet to appear in a game this season, so it’s almost been a full year since he took the court.

Smith said that Simmons’ defense would “elevate Brooklyn.” Without him … well, that’s a different matter.

“I think you need Ben Simmons to win the title,” Smith said of the Nets. “I think you can get away with it, without him, to win the East, as tough as the East is, because you know who you’re going up against in a night in, night out basis.”


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