Inside the Nets’ building frustration with Ben Simmons as team looks to emerge from early slump

Sacramento, Calif. — The Brooklyn Nets were embarrassed on national television Tuesday night, falling 153-121 to the Sacramento Kings in a game so one-sided it had to be seen to be believed.

But after all these weeks of questions surrounding Ben Simmons and his recent round of health problems, there was an upside: He not only played, he played reasonably well. In 20 minutes of play off the bench, the hapless 2016 No. 1 scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting — the most he’s scored since June 14, 2021 — while adding five rebounds and three assists.

With Simmons’ unavailability already a major problem for the Nets – not to mention his lackluster play when he set foot on the court – the timing of his return could not have been better. However, with the Nets desperately trying to salvage their season amid the recent departure of head coach Steve Nash and the unresolved Kyrie Irving controversy, doubts remain about Simmons’ eventual impact.

According to multiple sources with first-hand knowledge of the situation, frustration surrounding Simmons had been building in recent weeks within the organization. And those sources said that the coaching staff and players are concerned about his availability and level of play, as some have questioned his passion for the game. But even as he played, Simmons’ struggles in his first nine games of the season were part of the Nets’ frustration, too.

Simmons returned from back surgery in May to play at the start of this season, but recently missed eight days on his left knee due to fluid. After beginning the season as the starting point guard tasked with making the play and pushing the pace, Simmons was moved to the backup backup position for the last four games. This is the first time he has been off the bench in his seven seasons. He was a late scratch in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers, with the team citing left knee soreness as the reason for his absence.

in discussion with the athlete On Tuesday, Simmons acknowledged the criticism he knows is coming his way and shared his view on the matter.

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“Obviously you’re not going to be happy when someone gets out,” Simmons said. the athlete. “But for me, I’ve been dealing with the knee since the start of the season. It was swollen. I had a PRP (injection). I bled a few times. So it’s not a made-up thing, you know? It’s a real thing.

“I have (doubts), but I think the only thing with me is that I’m a competitor. I want to win and play. So I’ll do everything I can to get out there.”

This extended spell at the start of the season was just the latest setback in what has been a brutal two years for the 26-year-old. From back problems that left the Philadelphia 76ers star vomiting in pain and sidelined in the 2019-20 regular season to his infamous end in his second-round playoff series loss to Atlanta, he sits out last season while citing his mental health from before. The Sixers traded him to Brooklyn, and Simmons’ road has been rocky for some time now. He then missed the playoffs due to a back problem caused by a herniated disc. And that familiar theme—his co-workers questioned his professional will—is one he knows he can’t control.

“There’s only so much I can do[about perception],” Simmons said. “You can’t make people believe, you know? They weren’t there when I was on the floor and couldn’t walk (because of his back). They weren’t there when I was in the ambulance being taken to the hospital (after the February 22, 2020 game in Milwaukee). The people weren’t there.” There, so they don’t know. That was the first episode I had against Milwaukee. That was the original trigger for it… Right before COVID, my back problems started.

“But that’s part of my journey. There are times when I couldn’t walk. I had dead feet. I couldn’t sleep. A lot of things were running with me, physically, to where it was tough. But there’s a lot I can tell someone to believe in, you know.” ?

When it comes to this latest physical challenge, Simmons said his ailing left knee required near-constant care while a significant improvement was shown.

“I’m over medicated, everything I need to stay out there,” Simmons continued. “I’m just spending more time at the table, honestly, more downtime (where) I’m literally just cutting my legs, eating ice, doing everything I need to do – sleeping.

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“Yeah (the knee is a bigger problem than the back), and that’s fine. And that’s one thing with the league. You’ll start having some (problems) with one thing and then you think about your ankle or your leg or whatever. It’s going to happen, but controlling it is the most important part.” importance to me.”

Meanwhile, the Nets desperately need Simmons to regain All-Star form. Especially given the chaos that surrounded their off-set team.

From the departure of coach Nash on November 1 to the indefinite suspension of Irving, they’ve dealt with their share of turmoil this season. But in the midst of this pivotal stretch, with the Nets winning six out of 10 games under new head coach Jack Vaughn, they are looking for consistency and winning turns. Superstar Kevin Durant is playing at his usual high level, but Irving is still not available, and players like Yuta Watanabe, Seth Curry and Joe Harris have been dropped from the lineup at times due to nagging ailments.

The level of anger towards Simmons surfaced on October 29 when the Nets held a players-only meeting after losing to the Pacers at Barclays Center. Sources with direct knowledge of the meeting, but who have been granted anonymity so they can speak freely, say that at that meeting Markiv Morris — the veteran leader of these networks — spoke in front of all his teammates about how they needed Simmons to succeed and that he should Respond when dealing with adversity in court. These sources all describe a meeting in which Simmons appeared to take Morris’ words in stride and was responsive and attentive throughout.

“We had a conversation that I’m obviously not going to talk about. Simmons told reporters after the meeting that took place.

Simmons missed the next two Nets games with a knee problem and returned in a bench role in the Nets’ loss to the Mavericks in Dallas on November 7.

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sources say the athlete That team officials and teammates were in regular contact with Simmons about how to get him comfortable.

The three-time All-Star averaged career-lows across the board in his return to action after not playing at all last season. Simmons averages 5.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 27.3 minutes per night over nine games so far. He came off the bench for his last three games with Vaughn going with the much improved Nick Claxton as the starting center and Simmons as Claxton’s backup. Claxton is having a breakout season, averaging 11.9 points and 9.1 rebounds.

However, Simmons has shown flashes of on-the-ground brilliance this season and the all-around attributes that have made him a two-way star throughout his career.

“It’s the consistency piece,” Vaughn said before Tuesday’s game when asked about his prediction for Simmons. “Trying to stabilize this group has been the challenge in general, not just the off-field stuff but we have people in some games, from some games – not (playing) back-to-back. So we try not to use any excuses. That’s who we are. I’m going to coach this group.” Whoever is available that day, that’s who we’re going to play.

“So he could be considered the five. He could be considered (a player) catching the rebound and pushing it, which is the five-stroke slash. And so we tried to surround him with little guys where he could dribble and push the pace, and he had shooters around him. It was all piece based, and we needed to increase our space “To the fullest extent with Kevin being on the ground. And I think as we continue to grow together as a group, that will evolve. And Ben will evolve, and you’ll see more and better of him.”

The Nets have $72 million on their payroll out of lineup with Irving and Simmons, creating a tough win streak for this roster of die-hard players, including the emergence of Royce O’Neale and Edmond Sumner. Even as Simmons steps forward, the loss against the Kings reminds them of that much.

(Top photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)


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