The forgotten man in all the Nets' wheelin’ and dealin’ and draftin’ was and is Bobby Simmons, the league’s Most Improved Player, 2004-05, and arguably the most successful D-Leaguer in NBA history.
"He will be a rotation player for us. He made the deal work," Rod Thorn told WFAN on Thursday. Thorn was only a bit more effusive later that day in his post-trade press conference, saying "Bobby Simmons is a solid player. He's a 10-plus scorer over the course of his NBA career and we think he can help us too."
Lawrence Frank stuck to the talking points when asked about him by the YES Network's Michele Beadle: "Bobby Simmons, a career 10 point a game scorer. Very good spot up shooter who will help spread the floor as well."
Period. That's all either said.
Simmons has indeed been lost in all the hoopla over the Nets’ resounding success in the draft, the marketability and upside of the player who he was traded with—Yi Jianlian, the emotional loss of the player they were traded for—Richard Jefferson, and of course, the possibility this was all done to clear cap space for Lebron James in 2010...in effect, the off-season's stepchild.
What has been written about him this week focuses on his contract, not his game. The Nets liked him because his contract runs out a year before Jefferson’s. The Bucks didn’t like him because their previous regime signed him to a ridiculous five-year, $47 million after that MIP season with the Clippers. (Ironically, the Bucks had the money available because Shareef Abdur-Rahim had turned down the Bucks to accept a lesser offer from the Nets.)
Simmons is 28, the same age as RJ...the same height with a little bit more heft and a lot less quickness. He’s another deep shooter—preferring the corner. He is a career 39.0% three-point shooter, with a high of 43.5% in his MIP season and 35.1% last season. He's a good, if risk-taking, defender but a poor ball handler. Don’t expect him to run the court, but he can board using his strength. He also possesses something Frank will appreciate: a great work ethic.
"It's going to be an opportunity for me to play around the basket and show my athleticism more," he said at the press conference introducing him and Yi to the New York-New Jersey media. "I just want to go out and have fun. That's what it's all about"
His numbers dipped his first season in Milwaukee—going from 15.6 points per game with the Clippers to 13.4 with the Bucks and from 5.9 rebounds to 4.4. Shoulder problems and plantar faschiitis slowed him down. Then in October 2006, he suffered a stress reaction in his right heel. It's been all downhill from there.
The Bucks initially thought the stress reaction would get better without surgery. He continued to rehab in hopes that it would. It didn’t. First, he underwent "successful" arthroscopic surgery in December to remove bone spurs on his right ankle then had a second "successful" surgery three weeks later to address a symptomatic cyst in his right heel bone (calcaneus) and plantar faschiitis on his right foot, according to NBA.com.
Season over. Career in question.
He returned last season, perhaps too early after major surgery, and hardly contributed until the last month of the season. Although we know the perils of basing a player's future success on what he does for a lottery team at the end of a season (See Magloire, Jamaal), there has to be some guarded optimism, some hope from what Simmons was able to do in April.
In 10 games, he averaged 12.7 points in 23.8 minutes, hauling in 3.1 rebounds as well. In his best game all season, he scored 24 and grabbed six boards in overtime win vs. the Knicks. During that stretch, he shot 51.6% overall, 46.5% from the arc and 85.7% from the line. To go with that, he averaged 0.9 assists and 0.7 steals. His assist-to-turnover ratio was negative since he averaged more turnovers (1.6) than steals and he only went to the foul line 14 times in 10 games. He also was a foul machine, picking up nearly three a game, fouling out once and picking up five two other times.
Word from Milwaukee is that he lost a lot of mobility and a step since the surgery. So, he takes more chances on defense, has become a spot-up shooter. He's a good shooter in the clutch with the NBA's 16th best shooting percentage in pressure situations last year. The question remains will he be able to recover what he lost?
Critics have been wrong about Simmons before. He was taken in the middle of the second round out of DePaul by the Sonics in the 2001 draft, then immediately traded to the Wizards, where he bounced back and forth between the NBA and the D-League his first two years before getting his chance with the Clippers.
He played 56 games for the Clips in 2003-04, missing a month because of a severe hip sprain. Then, he broke out in 2004-05 and went from making a vets minimum of $638,000 in LA to that guaranteed $47 million in Milwaukee.
Simmons, a Chicago native accepts that he'll be lost in the marketing and media mayhem for his once and future teammate, Yi, and he says nice--well more than nice--things about him.
"A young Kevin Garnett," Simmons said of Yi at the press conference. "I had actually seen Kevin play in high school, and he was very athletic, he's capable of making shots and making plays because he was more agile than everyone else."
The challenge now for Simmons is to make people forget his contract and recall his game. A 6'7", 240-pound player with deep shooting ability and a defensive mindset can be a valuable commodity...even if he doesn't speak Chinese.