Ben Simmons’ contract complicates any potential Nets pursuit of Donovan Mitchell

·5 min read

NEW YORK — Brian Windhorst’s storytelling masterclass on ESPN’s “First Take” Friday morning put a spotlight not only on Donovan Mitchell’s potential trade availability in Utah, but also the Nets’ involvement in any potential deal. But it’s Ben Simmons — the darling of the deal with the Philadelphia 76ers for James Harden — whose contract must be moved if the Nets were to be longshot suitors for Mitchell’s services.

Windhorst, who covers the NBA for the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” began piecing the breadcrumbs together. He posited that Danny Ainge taking over the Utah Jazz front office meant a potential detonation of the longstanding Western Conference playoff contender. He said Quin Snyder’s decision to vacate the Jazz head coaching post, and the front office’s decision to sign a rookie head coach in ex-Celtics assistant Will Hardy to a five-year deal reaffirmed the thought that the Jazz might be blowing up the entire roster. He also pointed to Utah’s deal with Brooklyn: Royce O’Neale — a player who fits on any championship contender as a versatile 3-and-D wing — to the Nets for a 2023 first-round pick.

“Why would they do that?” Windhorst thought out loud.

He then pointed to Ainge’s decision to dismantle the Boston Celtics' aging core of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry the same season he hired a rookie head coach in Brad Stevens. Windhorst connected the dots masterfully. He all but insinuated things are coming to an end for the Donovan Mitchell-Rudy Gobert Jazz era.

In fact, Gobert was traded Friday afternoon to the Minnesota Timberwolves for four first-round picks and ‘22 first-round pick Walker Kessler, per ESPN.

And where do the Nets fall in the picture? With Kevin Durant requesting a trade, the entire league is the Nets’ oyster. Teams have furnished more trade requests Brooklyn’s way than one man can handle. The entire front office is working in tandem to steer the Nets through the post Seven-Eleven era.

But can the Nets somehow land Mitchell for all their troubles? Can they salvage what’s left of their reputation and their playoff hopes by prying Spida from Utah’s clutches and bringing him back to his home state? (Mitchell grew up in Westchester)

It’s possible, but it would require a Simmons trade, which would pile onto the mess brewing in Brooklyn with two superstars already on the way out.

That’s because both Simmons and Mitchell have signed designated rookie max extensions worth 25 to 30% of the salary cap, and neither of them signed their deals in Brooklyn. The collective bargaining agreement states that a team may have up to two designated rookies and two designated veterans on their team in any one season, but only one (1) of those designated rookies can be acquired via trade. The Nets already acquired one via trade when they acquired Simmons in the deal for Harden.

The same CBA rule restricts the Nets from trading for Heat star Bam Adebayo in any deal for Durant — unless they also move Simmons, because Adebayo also signed a designated rookie max extension worth $163 million over five years.

Elsewhere, the Eastern Conference is stacking up, and the Boston Celtics are ensuring they do not pull a Knicks. After the Knicks exceeded expectations and landed the East’s fourth seed and a first-round playoff appearance two seasons ago, they failed to adequately improve the roster and missed the playoffs last season.

The Celtics, quite frankly, got lucky in the Eastern Conference finals, facing a defending champion Milwaukee Bucks team without Khris Middleton, the All-Star scorer who missed the entire series with a Grade 2 MCL sprain. The Celtics still needed seven games to defeat the Middleton-less Bucks and went on to lose to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals in six games.

The Celtics, however, had no delusions of their own ceiling. They knew to get better and have already gone ahead and done so by trading Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith, a 2023 first-round pick and three other non-rotation players to the Indiana Pacers for former Rookie of the Year and standout (but injury-stricken) guard Malcolm Brogdon. They also acquired Ex-Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari and are in the running for one of two notable free agent centers: Rochester native Thomas Bryant and vaunted shot-blocker Hassan Whiteside.

It remains unclear what kind of package the Nets are going to get in return for Durant. A source told the Daily News the Nets want two All-Stars and draft compensation in a deal for the two-time NBA Finals MVP who requested a trade from Brooklyn hours before free agency began. The News has also confirmed reports that Durant’s primary focus is landing on the Phoenix Suns, and that Irving’s primary focus is rejoining LeBron James in Los Angeles on the Lakers.

What the Nets receive in exchange for those players could not only dictate the length of time it takes the front office to rebuild, but also the power structure of the NBA for years to come.

Mitchell’s landing spot, in the event Windhorst’s dot-connecting is indeed accurate, could also shake up whichever conference he lands. Unless the Nets are planning to trade Simmons, however, Mitchell to the Nets cannot happen.