Brooklyn Nets' Ben Simmons watches practice before a game on March 10,...

Brooklyn Nets' Ben Simmons watches practice before a game on March 10, 2022, in Philadelphia. Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

In his first extensive interview since the trade that brought him to the Brooklyn Nets, Ben Simmons sat and talked about the criticisms and questions that follow him the way that his potential as the No. 1 overall pick once did.

Appearing on "The Old Man and the Three" podcast with his former Philadelphia 76ers teammate JJ Redick, Simmons expressed optimism that this Nets team will shake off the uncertainty of summer and reach the lofty goals once set for the team.

“It’s gonna be sick,” Simmons told Redick, even inviting him along. “I can’t wait. I’m so excited, changed my number, got a new number, new jersey, and I’m just looking forward to it. I think you know, we have a special team. I think if we, you know, get it all together, we’re gonna be champions. So that’s the end goal. If you want to make a comeback, put on the jersey, feel free. But, yeah, I’m excited, it’s New York City, you know I’m playing with some unbelievable players.”

It’s a far cry from where the Nets were not long ago, openly shopping stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — Durant, to try to satisfy his trade request, and Irving, to settle the turmoil that seemingly follows his every move. Simmons certainly had his own issues when he departed Philadelphia, sitting out with an assortment of mental and physical ailments. But the February trade, centered around Simmons for James Harden, is one that Simmons believes will change those perceptions.

“The talent that we have, the type of players that we have we’re going to be able to run the floor," Simmons said. "This team right now is just a great fit for what I do and what I bring to the game. I feel like it’s Philly on steroids in terms of what we had when you [Redick], Marco [Belinelli], Ersan [Ilyasova] were there.

“It’s exciting knowing I’m going to play with those guys, knowing their games and I won’t have to guard Kyrie and Kevin. You don’t guard Kevin. Nobody guards Kevin. Those guys are so incredibly talented. Their focus is incredible. Just seeing him work, but yeah, no one’s guarding Kevin or Ky.”

He spoke of the back problems that halted an attempt to get on the court in the playoffs with the Nets and the criticism of his shooting in the interview that lasted more than an hour. Simmons never played with the Nets after the February trade and he addressed the troubles in Philadelphia. He never played there again after the 2021 playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

“I was in such a bad place where I was like, [expletive], I’m trying to get here and you guys are, like, throwing all these other things at me to where you’re not helping,” Simmons said. “And that’s all I wanted was help. I didn’t feel like I got it from coaches, teammates — I won’t say all teammates, because there’s great guys on that team that did reach out and are still my friends — but I didn’t feel like I got that, and it was just a tough place for me.”

He skipped games and practices and was fined for his absences by the 76ers. He has sought to recoup the money but said he’s mostly happy to be somewhere he can be at peace.

“I don’t care about the money,” he said. “It’s not about the money for me now. Like, I want peace and happiness. Like, I want to be in a good place. And that, if that costs me whatever it costs, that’s what it costs. My peace is more valuable than, you know, money.”

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