Ben Simmons was a topic at the Nets players-only meeting


PORTLAND, Ore. — Ever since Ben Simmons arrived in Brooklyn — at the expense of three-time NBA champion James Harden — he’s played poorly or not at all.

His struggles — first getting on the court, then staying there or succeeding there — have been a glaring concern for the Nets since acquiring him last season. And they continue to be, with some in the organization privately grumbling even more about his absences and poor play in recent weeks than they did upon his arrival.

The hope was that not playing due to mental health issues and a bad back (essentially taking a redshirt year) would help Simmons regain his form. But after surgery for a herniated disc, he is still missing games and less his explosiveness, a 26-year-old triple All-Star now relegated off the bench.

The Nets, who will end their road trip against the Trail Blazers on Thursday after back-to-back losses, had a lot to blame for their underperforming start. They held a players-only meeting on October 29 after losing at home to Indiana. Among the many topics discussed and concerns expressed was Simmons.

Ben Simmons

« It was honest. We had a conversation that obviously I’m not going to talk about, but it was honest, » Simmons said at the time. « That’s what winning teams do, hold each other accountable. Be open and talk to your teammates and respect that.

The Athletic reported that Markieff Morris spoke out, saying the Nets needed Simmons to succeed and that he had to react when he faced adversity on the field. The report also claimed that Simmons seemed to take criticism head on and was responsive and attentive throughout.

« I don’t want to get into the discussions that are going on in the locker room. We keep that between us,” Kevin Durant said of the report.

At the time, Morris said: “I’m not talking about the players-only meetings. I don’t even know why you know about this. It is something that is between us. It’s our thing. On Wednesday, he flatly denied the story in The Athletic.

“Who is the source? You gotta relax with these fake stories man! Morris tweeted. “Let me and my boys play! »

Precisely who spoke at the meeting and exactly what they said may be more of a micro concern. The macro problem is Simmons, both for his mediocre game (averages of 5.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 26.6 minutes, all career lows) and for the same concerns over his passion that pursued him in Philadelphia.

Simmons played through the pain. His back had nerve damage which he says will take 18 months to heal. It caused a swollen knee which has already cost him five games, been drained and, he told The Athletic, required PRP injections.

And none of that even considers his psyche.

Simmons, who has seen a therapist in the past, is in the third season of a five-year, $177 million contract. Durant has already asked for a trade once and Kyrie Irving will be a free agent, so Simmons could outlast both in Brooklyn, so getting him there and keeping him in the right headspace is paramount.

« The big chunk of that is the group still have faith in them – which we do – and then put them in positions to be successful, » said coach Jacque Vaughn, who moved Simmons from starting point guard to backup center. “Defensively, do what you do. And that starts with playing hard. … But our ongoing conversations to try to make him comfortable as a basketball player, that’s my challenge.

Ironically, it was in Tuesday’s 153-121 humiliation at Sacramento that Simmons had his first promising ranged game of the season. His 11 points were the most he had scored since June 14, 2021. He shot 5 of 7 – throwing a lob – caught five boards and dished out three assists.

« I mean, that’s what we expect of him, nothing surprising, » Durant said with a shrug. « If you’re out there playing, I guess you’re fine physically. He made good drives [Tuesday]but that’s what we expect of him.


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