To a certain extent, the attention of NBA fans should be on Brooklyn Nets point guard Ben Simmons. Everyone loves a comeback story, an underdog story and no player in the NBA is better positioned to become the stuff of Disney movies this season. That being said, all of the talk from Simmons, his camp and the Nets organization sounds like a propaganda campaign when held up next to his performances thus far in preseason play.
First and foremost, we all know preseason should be taken with a grain of salt. Rotations are heavy on prospects, expected starters play limited minutes and the emphasis is not on winning or stats. Rather, the focus is on allowing coaches and front office personnel to make roster decisions before the regular season starts. Still, when a player who has missed as much time as Simmons has, the importance of even limited minutes in preseason action can’t be overlooked.
There was, of course, a great deal of hype coming out of Simmons’ camp as well as the Nets’ front office over the summer. On the Nets side, it’s safe to assume some of that was geared towards perhaps finding a trade partner for the beleaguered point guard. Both injuries and mental health have made his absence more of a story than his presence after he began his career as a perennial All-Star. When he finally returned to the court last season, he was a far cry from that All-Star player, averaging just 6.3 points per game to go with 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists.
“I’m going to be better than I was,” Simmons told The New York Post recently. “My job is just to show up, perform, work my ass off and lead this team the right way. So it’s doing all the little things, and everything else takes care of itself.”
That’s certainly what the Nets are hoping as they prepare to pay him just under $38 million this season and a bit better than $40 million in 2024-25. The team has been through the ringer since building what they hoped would be an era of contention with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden in the mix. That experiment fell apart faster than a Crumbl cookie leaving the Nets with Simmons as a consolation prize.
So far, not much of a prize, but Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn sees reasons for optimism.
“It starts with how he’s put his body in a position to perform. He’s done the work behind closed doors to have himself ready to play. And that helps yourself mentally,” Vaughn told The Post. “He’s in a pretty good place where he’s able to communicate with his teammates. It’s about winning. It’s about putting ourselves in a position to win ball games, and he can impact the game in a variety of ways.”
How much winning will the Nets do this season? That’s definitely up for debate. It’s hard to see them competing for a playoff berth above the play-in tournament because the Eastern Conference got even tougher from the top down. Still, if Simmons can bring it every night and regain his All-Star form, it’s not out of the question that the Nets, perhaps with a front court tweak, could prove to be one of the inspiring stories of the new campaign.
Bill Ingram is Executive Editor for The Hardwood Huddle, a new website coming soon from the creators of Back Sports Page. Bill has covered the NBA for more than 20 years.
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