Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets looks on from the...

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets looks on from the bench next to Ben Simmons against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on February 24, 2022. Credit: Getty Images/Adam Hunger

So, Kyrie Irving, what do you think the atmosphere is going to be like inside the Wells Fargo Center when Ben Simmons returns to Philadelphia on Thursday night?

"Lovely," Irving said.

Simmons isn’t even going to be playing when he accompanies the Nets and watches from the bench for Thursday’s reunion with James Harden and the 76ers.

Simmons, who is rehabbing a back injury as he prepares to make his Nets and season debut, could have chosen to stay in Brooklyn. He wasn’t with the team in its previous stops in Boston and Charlotte.

But Simmons decided to face the music — and the booing — after declining to play for the 76ers this season, citing his mental health, and then getting traded to the Nets in a deal that included Harden, who has led the 76ers to victories in all five of his appearances since the trade.

Irving gets booed in Boston every time he returns there. It happened to Durant when he went back to Oklahoma City as a member of the Golden State Warriors.

"It's one of those things you just got to experience for yourself," Durant said on Tuesday night after the Nets snapped a four-game losing streak with a 132-121 victory over the Hornets. "Embrace it. All the greats have been through being called the worst names in the history of the book. The good thing about it is that we get a chance to perform and shut the people up."

It's different for Simmons, though, because he won’t get that chance this time.

"I got to play and shut the people up every time I hit a jump shot," Durant said. "And then — win. But Ben doesn't have that opportunity right now. He's got to just sit there and just take a bunch of people being childish. Throwing insults at his way because he didn't want to play basketball for them no more. I mean, it's funny when you look at it in the bigger picture, you see what it really is, but that's just the sport we play. That's the profession we're in. We're out making $40 million a year, you can take that for 48 [minutes], for a couple hours."

Simmons’ salary is "only" $33 million this season. But you get Durant’s point.

Simmons is showing something to his teammates by attending the game when he easily could have cited the need to get healthy as a reason to skip the madness. Durant just hopes the vitriol doesn’t get out of hand.

"I'm sure it's going to be some personal attacks, some words that may trigger you personally, but that's just how fans are," Durant said. "They're going to get under our skin. And they're going to let their voices be heard. I think part of the experience of coming to an NBA game is to heckle. Some people don't even enjoy basketball, their lives are so [expletive] that they get to just aim it at other people. So it's easy to kind of get that release at a basketball game. Ben understands that."

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