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Fran Blinebury

Bobby Simmons (center), the NBA's Most Improved Player in 2004-05, played in just 23 games last season for the Nets.
Bobby Simmons (center), the Most Improved Player in 2004-05, played just 23 games last season for the Nets.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Simmons hopes to do more than watch with Spurs

Posted Oct 8 2010 5:57PM

There were worse places to be last season than on the court playing for the hapless 12-win Nets, the worst team in basketball, as they tried to avoid a dubious place in the history books.

Bobby Simmons had to sit on the bench and watch it.

"It wasn't pleasant and it wasn't pretty," said the 30-year-old forward. "It was something to endure to get another chance."

That new chance is in San Antonio with an unguaranteed contract, but at least an opportunity to play that huge chip off his shoulder following a year's worth of frustration in New Jersey.

"The organization wanted to go in another direction, as far as developing the young guys," Simmons said. "As far as the veterans, they said, 'If we can get you out of here, we will.' But after the trade deadline, we were stuck there. There was nothing we could do.

"As a veteran, I took the punches and continued to work out and tried to get better. As far as playing, that wasn't an option.

"It was tough, probably tougher than the ankle injury (stress reaction) I had (in 2006). I was healthy and ready to play and wasn't given an opportunity. I figured when we weren't winning in the beginning I would get that opportunity, but it didn't happen at all."

Actually, Simmons played in the first 18 games of last season, all losses as the Nets set a record for consecutive season-opening defeats. But coach Lawrence Frank was fired after the 16th game and that's when Simmons' role headed toward a cliff. After two games under interim coach Tom Barrise, he was buried at the end of the bench when Kiki Vandeweghe took over.

"To be honest, I wasn't sure if those guys were ready to be head coaches," Simmons said. "That's my opinion."

Either way, it's been a long fall for Simmons since he was named the NBA's Most Improved Player by averaging 16.4 points for the L.A. Clippers in 2004-05. It was that performance that got him signed to a five-year, $47 million free agent contract by Milwaukee that finally ended last season with him making $11.2 million to be one of the league's wealthiest spectators.

Now it's about demonstrating that he's still got something to contribute and he chose the Spurs over offers from Washingon, Dallas and Chicago.

"It's the continuity of the team here, having veteran guys that know how to play the game and want to win that made the difference," Simmons said. "This is a franchise that has proven over and over that they know how to win."

The Spurs are seeking a reliable backup to Richard Jefferson at the small forward spot, preferably someone who can aggressively and effectively defend the position.

"If I had my druthers in a perfect world, I'd want Bruce Bowen to be 28 years old and back on our team," said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. "But I'm not gonna find Bruce Bowen. So if I can find somebody close, who can be as big a pain in the ass as he was, that would be great. So far I haven't been able to do that.

"[Bruce] knew what he could do well and he did it. He couldn't dribble. He couldn't pass. I never ran a play for him. But he had a helluva distinctive career, did a great job and helped us win championships because he accepted that role. You probably can't replace that. So if I can get somebody who can at least spell defense, say the word once in a while, then I'll know they have some interest in it. Beyond that, the worse they are defensively, the better they better be able to shoot or there's no reason to have them around."

Simmons was the fifth-best 3-point percentage shooter for the Nets in the 2008-2009 season when he hit at a 44.7 clip while playing just over 24 minutes a game. Throughout his career, he's been a defender, a wingman, a post player, getting time as a small forward, power forward and even playing some shooting guard.

"He did a little bit of everything," Popovich said. "He's kind of like a utility infielder in a way. He shoots it pretty well. He knows how to pass it. He has a pace about him. He understands how the game is played.

"Do you want him to play the 3 or the 4? Do you want to emphasize defense or offense? Is he gonna fit in with the group the way you want to play? All those things we're trying to evaluate right now."

So Simmons arrived in San Antonio without a guarantee and wanted to show that he's better at this point in his career than what the conventional wisdom might say.

"I'm a guy who's been on good teams, bad teams, relied on my defense and on my offense, been hurt and I've been healthy," he said. "But in my years in the league, there's only one thing I couldn't handle. That's why I'm here to do anything the Spurs ask me to do."

Just don't ask him to watch.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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