September 26, 2023
Since requesting a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers more than two years ago, Ben Simmons has struggled to both stay healthy and regain the form that saw him earn three All-Star berths and an All-NBA nod across his first four seasons.
Between mental and physical setbacks, he sat out all of 2021-22 before retaking the court in 2022-23, when he looked out of sorts, played 42 games and shut down his season in mid-February. As the 2023-24 campaign approaches, Simmons seems rejuvenated. Brooklyn Nets brass is eager about what he can bring to a team seeking its sixth straight playoff appearance, despite Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving no longer being in the fold.
“Let’s not dwell on the past, he’s feeling confident about where he is physically,” Nets general manager Sean Marks told reporters Tuesday morning.
“This is more like, get out here, support him and unleash him.”
Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn told reporters Simmons “is playing 5-on-5, no restrictions, so he should be ready for training camp.” He anticipates the Australian having the ball in his hands rather frequently on offense, noting that he believes Simmons and Spencer Dinwiddie can share the floor together. Last season, with Simmons sidelined, Dinwiddie commandeered the point guard spot for the Nets following his return to Brooklyn.
“I owe it to everybody, the fans and everybody, to get back to where I need to be,” Simmons recently told the New York Post. “That’s what I did this summer to get back.”
The Nets are in a tricky spot with their floor-spacing dynamics. Center Nicolas Claxton emerged as a premier defender and budding complementary scorer last year, but neither he nor Simmons stretch the floor from deep. Offseason signee Dennis Smith Jr. could provide some ball-handling duties as well, though he’s another defensive-minded option who doesn’t offer much beyond the arc either.
Vaughn, who took over as head coach once Steven Nash was fired on Nov. 1., conveyed optimism about how Simmons can perform and how he’ll deploy him this season. He admitted he was asking Simmons to do things he couldn’t physically accomplish last year, yet now holds a better understanding of his capabilities and their relationship has grown for the betterment of everyone involved.
“At that time, you kept hearing me talk about force and those things and how I wanted him to play,” Vaughn said Tuesday. “Now, like a revelation, I’ve seen the work that he’s put in, where he was at, some of the things have been revealed to me. I think that’s why our relationship is at a really good place right now. But the things that I’m asking him to do going forward, I think he can physically do now. So, it does put us in a position where I can use multiple lineups, different people around him, so we can have success on both ends of the floor.”
Among Simmons, Claxton, Smith and Mikal Bridges, along with Royce O’Neale and Dorian Finney-Smith, the Nets certainly tout the potential to be a rather menacing defensive unit. Last season, however, following the departures of Durant and Irving, they ranked 17th in defensive rating (114.7). Although, there were flashes of intrigue on that end, such as their first-round efforts against Philadelphia. A renaissance from Simmons would absolutely elevate Brooklyn’s two-way ceiling, though the offense will likely remain very sticky until or if the Simmons-Claxton pairing can be properly accommodated and navigated.
In the meantime, just like every other team around the NBA, the Nets are using September as a time for hope and positivity. That ethos includes a revival from Simmons, who is seeking his first healthy year since 2020-21 and hoping to propel Brooklyn into the thick of the playoff race.
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