It’s been seven months since Ben Simmons last played a game with his Nets teammates. They won’t have to wait much longer.
Simmons will be ready at the start of training camp next week, coach Jacque Vaughn said Tuesday. He’s also playing five-on-five without restrictions, which is the final hurdle for players to be cleared for competition.
The news is encouraging after Simmons was limited to just 42 games last season as he dealt with a nerve impingement in his back.
“I think that fits into [an] exciting time for me to have this group together,” Vaughn said. “No restrictions at the beginning of the year, get to form an identity together, get to really form some relationships . . . a style of play.”
In August, Simmons said in an interview with Andscape that his back injury kept him from sleeping during car rides or driving to games. Because of a hernia on both sides, he couldn’t develop muscle on his right leg.
Now there’s hope the Nets could see the player who was an All-Star with the 76ers two years ago. General manager Sean Marks, however, isn’t putting that pressure on him.
“The fact that he’s feeling confident about where he is physically, that’s going to be exciting for us to go see him in camp and to build out from there,” Marks said. “So to put expectations on where he’ll be over the course of the season, I think that’s a little bit unfair because we haven’t done that with any of our players.
“This is more, get out here and support them and unleash them.”
Vaughn said Simmons will get the chance to play his preferred position of point guard again. Their relationship is also in a better place after the two spoke about Simmons’ physical limitations that kept him from what Vaughn was demanding on the court.
Those demands haven’t changed, but now Vaughn is confident that a healthy Simmons can meet those challenges. What remains to be seen is how Simmons is used on a team much different from the one he started with last season.
Before he was shut down on Feb. 15, Simmons only played three games with Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson and four with Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith. There’s chemistry that needs to be developed and lineups to be figured out with a team more centered around Bridges.
Yet two things are clear. The Nets still believe Simmons can be a playmaker, and he’s best suited to running the offense.
“I would use the word agreement more so than commitment,” Vaughn said of Simmons being the team’s point guard. “The agreement is if he’s playing at a consistent and high level, then I think our pictures look exactly the same.”
Vaughn added to expect some lineups with Simmons and Nic Claxton, both of whom are great defenders. There’s potential with Dinwiddie moving off the ball and being a catch-and-shoot player similar to his role with the Mavericks before he was traded last season.
Bridges will have more responsibility, Vaughn said, after emerging as the Nets’ No. 1 option and a successful stint with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. But Simmons’ return expands the possibilities for a team searching for its identity.
Time will tell how Simmons looks, starting with the Nets’ preseason opener Oct. 9 against the Lakers. But his clean bill of health and the Nets' belief in him is a positive step after a difficult campaign last season.
“The fact that he's feeling confident about where he is physically, that's going to be exciting for us to go see him in camp and to build out from there,” Marks said.
Ben Simmons has battled through several injuries since the 2019-20 season. Since being traded to the Nets in Feb. 2022 from the 76ers, he's appeared in just 42 of 109 possible regular season games.
With coach Jacque Vaughn saying Tuesday that he's healthy and cleared for the start of training camp, there's hope Simmons can have a greater impact on the court and avoid the rash of injuries that began more than three years ago. Here's a look at some of the significant injuries Simmons has had since 2020.
Feb. 2020 - nerve impingement in lower back (missed eight games prior to NBA shutdown due to COVID-19 pandemic)
Aug. 2020 - knee injury (missed nine games, including first-round playoff sweep)
Jan. 2021 - knee injury (missed two games)
Feb. 2021 - calf injury (missed one game)
March 2021 - knee injury (missed one game)
May 2021 - back injury (missed two games)
2021-22 - missed the entire season due to holdout/back injury
Oct. 2022 - knee injury (missed four games)
Nov-Dec. 2022 - knee injury (missed five games)
Jan-Feb. 2023 - knee injury (missed five games)
Feb. 2023 - knee soreness/nerve impingement in back (missed final 23 games of season and playoffs)