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

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Brooklyn Nets have been embarrassed on nationwide tv on Tuesday night time, falling 153-121 to the Sacramento Kings in a sport so one-sided it had to be seen to be believed.

But in spite of everything these weeks of questions surrounding Ben Simmons and his newest spherical of well being woes, there was this silver lining: He not solely performed, however performed fairly properly. In 20 minutes of motion off the bench, the much-maligned 2016 No. 1 decide scored 11 factors on 5-of-7 capturing – the most factors he has scored since June 14, 2021 – whereas including 5 rebounds and three assists.

With Simmons’ lack of availability already a serious concern for the Nets — not to point out his lackluster play when he stepped foot on the courtroom — the timing of his return couldn’t have been any higher. Yet with the Nets desperately making an attempt to save their season amid the current departure of coach Steve Nash and the unresolved Kyrie Irving controversy, the skepticism about Simmons’ final influence stays.

According to a number of sources with direct data of the state of affairs, the frustration surrounding Simmons had been building in current weeks inside the group. The teaching employees and gamers have been involved about his availability and degree of play, with some questioning his ardour for the sport, these sources stated. But even when he did play, Simmons’ struggles in his first 9 video games this season have been a part of the Nets frustration as properly.

Simmons made his return from May again surgical procedure to play in the early going of this season, however lately missed eight days to have his left knee drained due to fluid. After starting the season as the start line guard tasked with playmaking and pushing the tempo, Simmons has been moved to the backup middle spot in his final 4 appearances. It marks the first time he has come off the bench over his seven seasons. He was a late scratch in Sunday’s loss to the Lakers, with the team citing left knee soreness as the purpose for his absence.

In a dialogue with The Athletic on Tuesday, Simmons acknowledged the criticism that he is aware of is coming his means and shared his view on the matter.

“You’re clearly not gonna be pleased when anyone’s out,” Simmons instructed The Athletic. “But for me, I’ve been dealing with the knee since the begin of the season. It’s been swollen. I had PRP (injections). I had blood drained a few occasions. So it isn’t a made up factor, you understand? It’s an actual factor.

“I get (the skepticism), however I believe the one factor with me is that I’m a competitor. I need to win and play. So I’m gonna do what I can to get on the market.”

This early season stretch has been merely the newest setback in what has been a brutal two years for the 26-year-old. From the again issues that left the former Philadelphia 76ers star vomiting from ache and sidelined in the 2019-20 common season to his ill-fated end in the second spherical playoff collection loss towards Atlanta to him sitting out final season whereas citing his psychological well being earlier than the Sixers traded him to Brooklyn, Simmons’ street has been rocky for fairly a while now. He then went on to miss the playoffs due to a again concern stemming from a herniated disc. And this acquainted theme — his co-workers questioning his skilled need — is one which he is aware of he cannot management.

“There’s solely a lot I can actually do (about notion),” Simmons stated. “You cannot make folks imagine, you understand? They weren’t there after I was on the ground and could not stroll (due to his again). They weren’t there after I was in the ambulance getting taken to the hospital (after a Feb. 22, 2020 sport at Milwaukee). People weren’t there, so they do not know. That was the first episode I had towards Milwaukee. That was the authentic set off of it…proper earlier than COVID, the begin of my again points.

“But that is part of my journey. There’s occasions after I could not stroll. I had a useless foot. Couldn’t sleep. Lots of stuff was occurring with me, bodily, to the place it was powerful. But there’s solely a lot I can say for anyone to imagine, you understand?”

When it comes to this newest bodily problem, Simmons stated his ailing left knee has required near-constant care whereas the again has been vastly improved.

“I’m on full overload with remedy, all the pieces I want to do to keep on the market,” Simmons continued. “I’m simply spending extra time on the desk, truthfully, extra downtime (the place) I’m actually simply leg up, icing, doing no matter I want to do – sleeping.

“Yeah (the knee is a much bigger drawback than the again), which is sweet. And that is one factor with the league. You’ll be beginning to have some (hassle) with one factor and then you definately’re excited about your ankle or your leg or no matter it’s. That’s gonna occur, however getting it beneath management is the most essential half for me.”

The Nets, in the meantime, desperately want Simmons to regain his All-Star type. Especially contemplating the chaos that has enveloped their team outdoors of his state of affairs.

From the departure of head coach Nash on Nov. 1 to the indefinite suspension of Irving, they’ve dealt with their share of tumult this season. But in the midst of this pivotal stretch, with the Nets profitable six of 10 video games beneath new head coach Jacque Vaughn, they’re looking for consistency and profitable rotations. Superstar Kevin Durant is enjoying at his traditional excessive degree, however Irving stays unavailable, and gamers such as Yuta Watanabe, Seth Curry and Joe Harris have gone out and in of the lineup at occasions due to nagging illnesses.

The degree of exasperation towards Simmons bubbled to the floor on Oct. 29 when the Nets held a players-only assembly following a loss to the Pacers at Barclays Center. Sources with direct data of the assembly, however who have been granted anonymity in order that they might communicate freely say that in that assembly, Markieff Morris — a veteran chief on these Nets — spoke up in entrance of all of his teammates about how they want Simmons to succeed and that he has to reply when he offers with adversity on the courtroom. Those sources all described a gathering the place Simmons appeared to take Morris’ phrases in stride and was responsive and attentive all through.

“We had a dialog that clearly I’m not going to discuss. It was trustworthy,” Simmons instructed reporters after that assembly occurred.

Simmons went on to miss the subsequent two Nets video games due to the knee concern and returned in a bench position in the Nets’ loss to the Mavericks in Dallas on Nov. 7.

Sources inform The Athletic that team officers and teammates have been in common contact with Simmons about how to make him comfy.

The three-time All-Star is averaging profession lows throughout the board in his return to motion following not enjoying in any respect final season. Simmons is averaging 5.2 factors, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 27.3 minutes per night time over 9 video games thus far. He has come off the bench in his final three video games as Vaughn has gone with the much-improved Nic Claxton as the beginning middle and Simmons as Claxton’s backup. Claxton is having a breakout season, averaging 11.9 factors and 9.1 rebounds.

Still, Simmons has proven flashes of brilliance on the ground this season and the all-around attributes which have made him a two-way star all through his profession.

“It’s the consistency piece of it,” Vaughn stated earlier than Tuesday’s sport when requested about his expectations for Simmons. “Trying to stabilize this group has been the problem general, not solely the issues off the courtroom however us having folks in some video games, out of some video games – not (enjoying) again to backs. So we strive not to use any excuses. This is who we’re. I’m gonna coach this group. Whoever’s accessible that day, that is who we’re going to play.

“So he may be thought of the 5. He may be thought of (a participant who’s) grabbing the rebound and pushing it, and he is the one-slash-five. And so we have tried to encompass him with smalls the place he can dribble-handoff and push the tempo, and have shooters round him. It was all primarily based off the house piece, and we would have liked to maximize our house with Kevin being on the market on the ground. And I believe as we proceed to develop collectively as a gaggle, that is going to evolve. And Ben goes to evolve, and you will see extra and higher of him.”

The Nets have $72 million of their payroll out of the lineup with Irving and Simmons, making a tall activity for sustainable profitable for this roster of scrappy, hard-nosed gamers, together with the emergence of Royce O’Neale and Edmond Sumner. Even with Simmons’ step ahead, the loss towards the Kings reminded them of that a lot.

(Top Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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