Ben Simmons declined to pinpoint a specific date for a return to the court, but the former All-Star guard mentioned Tuesday he’s “starting to ramp it up” for his pending Brooklyn Nets debut.
Acquired in a blockbuster trade Thursday that also featured former Kia NBA MVP James Harden, Simmons spoke publicly for the first time since joining the Nets, saying “I hope so,” when asked whether he plans to be on the floor on March 10 (7:30 ET, TNT) when Brooklyn faces his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers, at the Wells Fargo Center.
Ben Simmons says "No date," but he's "starting to ramp it up."
— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) February 15, 2022
“This is the first time I’m really speaking out, right?” Simmons said when asked about multiple reports surfacing over the last six months detailing his tenuous situation in Philadelphia. “So, [over] the last six months I had everybody saying something, but nobody knew. So, I can’t really say anything negative towards anybody that was saying something because they just didn’t know.
“I’m not the type of person to try to put somebody down for something I don’t know about. That’s just not me as a man. I had my family there supporting me from Day 1, [and] friends. I’ve made a ton of friends that work with the Sixers, too. So, it was never a personal thing. It was just for my well-being to get to where I needed to be.”
Simmons reported to Barclays Center on Monday for Brooklyn’s shootaround ahead of the club snapping an 11-game losing streak with a 109-85 win against the Sacramento Kings. Simmons sat on the bench with his new teammates on Monday, expressing gratitude the following day for the way the Nets embraced him upon arrival.
Remember, Simmons staged a holdout in Philadelphia after requesting a trade back in August, and joined the 76ers in the second week of October only to later be reportedly thrown out of a practice by coach Doc Rivers. Simmons eventually left the team again to work through issues with his mental health, saying Tuesday that “mental health has nothing to do with just the trade. It was a bunch of things that I was dealing with as a person.”
Simmons o n Philly: "It wasn't a personal thing towards any player or coach, it was just me getting to where I needed to be…I'm looking forward to what's to come.
Said it got to a place 'where it wasn't good for me mentally" https://t.co/xfZqV9BcDO
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) February 15, 2022
Simmons described the latter as an ongoing process in his quest to return to live action for the first time since Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Physically, over the last six months I’ve been working, so I feel physically pretty good,” Simmons said. “Mentally, I’m getting there. It’s an ongoing thing to stay on top of that. But I think I’m headed the right direction.”
Nets coach Steve Nash agreed, saying Monday after shootaround that “if we work with him here in conjunction with his physical ramp-up to make sure he’s comfortable on and off the floor I think he’ll be ready to play mentally when he’s physically ready.”
It’s unknown at this point when that might take place.
Brooklyn’s last iteration of a big three featuring Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden played a total of 16 games together over the last two seasons before Harden departed for Philadelphia. Simmons said he spoke with Durant, who was “great on the phone,” just hours after the trade.
Simmons also detailed the circumstances that led to his request for a trade from Philadelphia.
“It was more so, it was just piling up, a bunch of things that have 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,” Simmons said. “That was the major thing for me. It wasn’t about basketball. It wasn’t about the money [or] anything like that.
“I wanted to be who I am, get back to playing basketball at that level, and being myself. So that’s something I’ve been dealing with, and it wasn’t about the fans, coaches, or comments made by anybody. It was just a personal thing for me that was earlier than that [Eastern Conference semifinals] series that I was dealing with. That organization knew that. So, it was something I continued to deal with, and I’m getting there, and getting to the right place to get back on the floor.”
Ben Simmons says "it was a personal thing with me" that made him unwilling to play in Philly before the trade to Brooklyn – not fan, team or media comments during or after playoffs. Says his issues preceded the playoffs. Says he’s not yet ready to play but is ramping up.
— David Aldridge (@davidaldridgedc) February 15, 2022
Brooklyn provides the perfect opportunity.
Durant has missed the team’s last 15 games due to a sprained left MCL, and isn’t set to return until after the All-Star break. Irving, meanwhile, remains a part-time player eligible to participate only in away games due to New York City’s vaccination mandate.
So, while Simmons said, “I don’t have a date yet” for a potential return, he’s worked every day with trainers, lifting weights, performing Pilates, and participating in 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 activities on the court.
Simmons acknowledged the recent change of scenery has helped, saying “just the way everybody has welcomed me here has been great,” before adding that “it’s been a very positive experience just being here so far.”
Simmons also admitted “this whole experience has been kind of surreal.”
A three-time All-Star, Simmons, 25, has averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists over the last four seasons.
Simmons said the prospect of teaming with Durant and Irving is “gonna be scary,” pointing out that “I think at the pace we want to play at, it’s gonna be unreal.”
Given all that’s transpired over the last six months, Simmons understands some fans might remain skeptical of his mental health issues.
Simmons predicted he won’t take offense.
“They should be happy I’m smiling, obviously,” Simmons said. “I’ve had some dark times over these last six months, and I’m just happy to be in this situation with this team and organization. People are gonna say what they want. They’ve said it the last six months, and it is what it is. So, people are always gonna have their own opinions.”
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