Cue the Scary Hours, Part 2.
That’s how newly acquired Nets star Ben Simmons envisions his fit with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when the three finally take the floor together some time after the Feb. 20 NBA All-Star break.
Simmons’ winding journey took him to Brooklyn as part of the blockbuster trade-deadline deal that sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers. Now, he inherits the same co-stars Harden ditched, the same all-time scorers who stand to benefit tremendously from Simmons’ unique blend of size, speed, athleticism and court-vision.
“I think it’s gonna be scary,” Simmons said in his introductory press conference at Nets’ HSS Training Facility in Industry City. “Having those guys run alongside me, multiple different weapons on the floor and I think at the pace we want to play at, it’s going to be unreal.” Simmons will first have to clear the hurdles that kept him off the floor this entire season in Philadelphia.
The last time the basketball world saw Simmons on the court, he was playing passive ball in the Sixers’ second-round playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The 25-year-old Australian playmaker shot just 6-of-14 combined from the field in his final three games in Philadelphia. Despite his high assist total, low turnover count, All-NBA caliber defense and physics-defying athleticism, Simmons will be remembered in Philly for his reluctance to take a shot — an open layup he turned down and instead passed to a teammate.
Simmons, however, has cited mental health issues as his reasoning for staying off the floor this season and didn’t blame any of his teammates, coaches or ownership in Philadelphia for his desire to be traded.
He has not spoken to Joel Embiid, the superstar big man who said it’s wasn’t his job to “babysit” Simmons, since the deal, but said he had spoken to Doc Rivers, his former head coach who threw him under the bus after last season’s playoff exit. Simmons said his mental health has been plaguing him for a few seasons, before this season’s trade request and holdout.
“The mental health has nothing to do with just the trade,” he said. “It was it was a bunch of things I was dealing with as a person in my personal life that I don’t really want to go into depth with.
“I don’t think it was really (the last game against the Hawks),” he said. “It was more so–it was just piled up. A bunch of things that had gone on over the years to where I just knew I wasn’t myself and I needed to get back to that place of being myself and being happy as a person and taking care of my well-being. That was the major thing for me.
“It wasn’t about the basketball, it wasn’t about the money, anything like that. I wanted to be who I am and get back to playing basketball at that level and being myself.”
While Simmons distanced himself from his Sixers teammates, the work continued: weightlifting, Pilates, on-court work with his trainer. Simmons hasn’t been sitting around on his couch all season. He’s been playing pick-up games and keeping himself in shape, and while he’s not expected to play Wednesday against the New York Knicks, he is trending in a direction that will get him back on the court.
“I don’t have a date yet,” Simmons said of his return. “But I’m working towards you know, getting back to the floor. So don’t have a date yet, but I’m starting to ramp it up.”
For both Simmons and the Nets, this is a new beginning after a toxic first half of the season. Simmons will eventually take the floor, and when he does, Durant will have returned from his sprained MCL. Irving is not yet eligible to play at Barclays Center, but both he and the Nets remain hopeful Mayor Adams loosens the Key to NYC COVID-19 vaccine mandate on professional indoor athletes.
And then there’s Simmons, who already knows how his game will fit alongside this reloaded Nets roster.
“I think I try to compare it to my earlier seasons (in Philly) with JJ Redick, Ersan Ilysaova and Marco Belinelli,” he said. “We were playing Miami in the first round, and just the way we were flowing and playing, that’s how I know how to play basketball. I’m the kind of player where I like to see everybody scoring and contributing whatever way they can. That’s the way you’ve got to play to win. If you want to be a winner, you’ve gotta play with all the guys on the floor and maximize the abilities that everybody has.”