Nervous? It’s OK to be nervous.
This is something that one of Ben Simmons’ high-profile teammates wants him to understand when he steps on the Barclays Center floor Wednesday night to play his first game in more than 16 months.
Simmons, who was traded from the 76ers to the Nets in February, missed all of last season because of mental health and back issues. Wednesday's season opener against the Pelicans will be his first regular-season game since Game 7 of the 76ers-Hawks playoff series on June 20, 2021.
Kevin Durant knows what it’s like to take more than a year off, having missed the entire 2019-20 season because of a torn right Achilles. Durant, one of the greatest players to play the game, admitted that he went through some mental challenges in coming back after a long layoff.
“Yeah, man you get some anxiety because you know that your peers have been doing this every day,” Durant said this week. “If you don’t do something every day while someone else is, you can lose a little bit of confidence. You can lose some of that skill you acquired because you are not putting in consistent work like your peers are.
“I got a little bit of anxiety, not knowing. The train don’t stop because you are injured. The whole league keeps moving, the game keeps evolving, so you don’t want to get caught from behind. When you are not playing NBA games, you feel like you are left out a bit. So, you want to make sure your game is right, your conditioning is right and everything is solid like before you left. You can have a little bit of anxiety creep in there at times, but it’s all about going out there and just playing your hardest when the ball is tipped.”
The addition of a healthy Simmons is the biggest difference between this Nets team and the one that was swept by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. He has the skills to be a difference maker, and how fast he is able to get back to being the player he was before things went south in Philadelphia will go a long way in determining just how good this team can be.
Kyrie Irving has talked to Simmons about not worrying about what outsiders think.
“We’ve got to dance every night,” Irving said after practice Tuesday. “Eighty-two games and perform well, so I like to think of it as going on like a tour. Get to be able to bond. With Ben being one of our leaders on our team he's going to get a chance to really work through circumstances that many people don’t think he can work through and they’re just waiting for him to fail. For us, I want to focus on the love and keeping everything positive around here and making sure he has the tools and keys for success, which is eliminating distractions, number one.”