Ben Simmons fixed on Nets future with Sixers drama firmly in rearview

Ben Simmons

The Ben Simmons that reported for his first day of work with the Nets looked — as the team as a whole did the night before — rejuvenated and ready to turn the page after an unceremonious exit from Philadelphia.

Simmons was clearly excited for what is to come for the Nets this season once everyone is on the court. Brooklyn gave a little bit of a preview of that on Monday in their 109-85 win over the Sacramento Kings, when Seth Curry and Andre Drummond made their debuts.

When Simmons hits the floor for the Nets is still unclear. Kings County’s newest resident still doesn’t have a date when he’ll be ready to play.

“I’m working towards getting back on the floor,” Simmons said in his first meeting with the media since being traded. “No date yet, but I’m starting to ramp it up.”

The 25-year-old hasn’t played an NBA game since June 6, 2021, and has cited his mental well-being as a large part of his absence from the 76ers this season. Simmons didn’t go into too many specifics but said it was a number of things that began to pile up and finally came to a head.

While it’s been widely reported that Simmons requested the trade and then told the Sixers that he needed time away for his mental well-being, the Nets’ newest superstar said that his mental health had “nothing to do with just the trade.”

“It was more so it just piled up,” Simmons said. “A bunch of things that have grown over the years that I just knew I wasn’t myself and I knew I needed to get back into that place of being myself, and being happy as a person. Taking care of my well-being, that was the major thing for me. It wasn’t about the basketball, it wasn’t about the money, anything like that.

“I want to be who I am and get back to playing basketball at that level and being myself.”

Now in Brooklyn, Simmons feels that he can do that with a clean slate in a new organization that has welcomed him with open arms. Simmons spoke with both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving after he was dealt at the deadline and he was on the bench during Monday’s win at the Barclays Center.

While Simmons hasn’t played a game this season, he has worked to stay in shape for when the time came to return to the court. He told reporters on Tuesday that he had been playing pickup games along with lifting weights and doing pilates.

As far as the work that needs to be done for him to be mentally ready, Simmons said the focus was just to “stay on top of what I need to stay on top of.”

“Physically, I think over the last six months, I’ve been working. I feel pretty good,” Simmons said. “Mentally, I’m getting there. It’s an ongoing thing. Staying on top of that but I think I’m heading in the right direction.”

The Nets have been aching to get past the drama that has consumed the organization for the past few weeks since word surfaced that James Harden could be open to leaving Brooklyn. Monday’s win over the Kings seemed to exorcise some of those demons.

Getting their roster fully healthy and on the court will shed the rest.

Simmons will play a big part in that once he is in the Nets’ lineup alongside Durant and Irving. Durant is expected to return from an MCL sprain at some point after the NBA All-Star break and Irving for the time being is still limited to just road games.

Nets head coach has already spoken to Simmons about what role he envisions for the new Brooklynite. Simmons said that it’s playing aggressively and keying in on his strengths as a playmaker and his defensive skill set.

And then of course there’s the anticipation of playing alongside Durant and Irving.

“I think it’s going to be scary having those guys running alongside me,” Simmons said about playing with Brooklyn’s two other superstars. “Multiple different weapons on the floor and I think at the pace that we want to play at it’s going to be unreal.”

The Nets have two more games left on the schedule before the all-star break and then jump back into action on Feb. 24 against Boston. However, it will be their March 10 trip down the New Jersey Turnpike that everyone will have circled on their calendars.

Asked whether he thinks he’ll be ready to play, Simmons said “I hope so.”

Simmons’ mental health has been the subject of skepticism, and ridicule, by some during his final few months in Philadelphia. While he didn’t have anything negative to say about those who questioned the legitimacy of it, Simmons did have a message for them.

“They should be happy I’m smiling, honestly,” he said. “I’ve had some dark times over these last six months and I’m just happy to be in this situation with this team and organization. People are going to say what they want. They’ve said it the last six months and it is what it is. People are always going to have their own opinions.”