Ben Simmons didn’t waste time after taking his seat during media day on Monday. Before the first question was finished, Simmons interrupted to confirm what Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said a week ago.
“You know where I’m at, I’m playing,” Simmons said. “I’m back to five-on-five and I’m back on the court playing.”
He sounded confident and didn’t seem to be thinking about the back and knee injuries that limited him to 42 games last season. He expressed a desire to be the Nets’ point guard, the role he had with the 76ers.
It was an optimistic tone that Simmons hadn’t shown much since the end of the 2021 playoffs. After a holdout, a trade and more injuries, he is glad to be healthy and playing basketball again.
“That’s a blessing. Every day, I don’t take it for granted,” Simmons said. “I just come in here and do my job to the best of my ability. I’m grateful to be back and just on the court playing and doing what I love.”
Words, however, aren’t enough on their own. How Simmons looks on the court moving forward will determine the Nets’ ceiling as a defensive-minded team under Vaughn.
Vaughn said Simmons, who hasn’t played in a game since Feb. 15, is under no restrictions for his return. His teammates have noticed him being aggressive and looking pain-free on the court.
“He just looks more explosive than last year as far as getting the ball in transition,” Cam Thomas said.
“He’s feeling a lot better, a lot more confident in himself,” Nic Claxton said. “I know he’s ready to get out there. He has a lot of people to prove wrong.”
Spencer Dinwiddie took it a step further by saying the Nets’ success will go as far as Simmons and Mikal Bridges go. It’s more pressure, but a role that Simmons wants to have.
His renewed attitude also comes from a better relationship with Vaughn, who was frustrated last season with Simmons’ play but said last week that he gained a better understanding of why and how Simmons was limited by the nerve impingement in his back.
Simmons understood why Vaughn was frustrated but appreciated the grace he showed in repairing the relationship by meeting this summer.
“I mean, it’s hard for a coach to really trust and believe in you when he’s not seeing it, right? And I’m not able to physically do it,” Simmons said. “He came down to Miami a few times and saw me, I think that’s what it was. He’s able to see me get healthy, put the work and the time in and focus on myself.”
At his best, Simmons was an elite facilitator and defender as a three-time All-Star. There’s still time for the 27-year-old to reach that level again with two years and just over $78 million remaining on his contract.
Simmons will team up with two strong defenders in Bridges and Claxton and a third off the bench in Dennis Smith Jr. As a point guard, he makes things easier both as a shot creator and getting to the rim. For a group that lacks rebounding besides Claxton, Simmons can help. He has averaged 7.8 rebounds per game in his career.
But it all depends on whether he can regain his form from two years ago. Simmons didn’t hesitate in saying it could happen this season. And the Nets believe he’s right.
“I’m excited for him that he’s healthy. I know he’s happy as hell that he feels good,” Bridges said. “We’re going to need him. He’s a big part of this team.”