In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN’s Nick Friedell Wednesday, Ben Simmons expressed optimism about his and the Nets upcoming season, did not back down from any questions on his health and talked about his return to Philadelphia — “a hostile place” — on November 22.
“F---, I can’t wait to go there, yeah,” said Simmons when Friedell asked about whether he was looking forward to the game at Wells Fargo Center. It was just one of several comments that will no doubt rile up fans in Philly and get fans in Brooklyn excited about Simmons.
Simmons presented a positive upbeat face to Friedell, much as he did in talking to J.J. Redick and Tommy Alter last month on “The Old Man and the Three” podcast: Optimistic about the Nets and philosophical about the 76ers and his season-long holdout.
About the Nets chances for a title with the new “Big Three,” Simmons told Friedell, “It would mean everything. To me, that would be a dream come true. In a situation like this, being in Brooklyn with these guys and this city, it would be incredible. But we got a long way to go, but I think this team’s capable of special things.”
Saying that he is in the best place that he’s been in a while — “For sure. I think so. You know what? I know so,” Simmons credited the Nets, both his teammates, the coaching staff and the organization for helping him get there.
“Definitely. I got support from all these guys, the coaching staff, the organization, so it’s up to me to go out there to do my job now and work. ... It feels like home. It feels normal to be here and come to work,” he said, adding that being with Durant and Irving — “they’ve been through different things in their careers” — has been a help.
He spoke as well about his progress after being off the court for 16 months.
“You know, the first game I came back and played against the Sixers? The feeling of being on the court was so surreal it just felt like that’s what I was missing, in the sense of my life. Being on that floor ... was just like, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be. This is where I feel comfortable — on the court.’ So it’s a blessing just to be back here and moving and playing against the best players in the world,” Simmons said.
He also spoke about his mental health, which he had cited as his reason for holding out in hopes of a trade.
“It’s taken a lot of work,” said the 26-year-old. “But that’s a part of my life, everyday routine now, is working on myself, staying in that place. Everyone has down times and things like that, but just acknowledging what you know about yourself and what puts you in those places, and then how to get out of it.”
Much of the interview — and a lot of the headlines — was about his situation in Philadelphia and the recurring criticism he gets for not shooting, for passing up opportunities and the ugliness he faced following the 76ers-Hawks series in 2021.
Specifically, Simmons said he had “no relationship” with fellow All-Star and 76ers teammate Joel Embiid. “I don’t talk to Jo. We never really spoke.”
“I don’t think there was really a relationship there. Like in terms of a friendship? You can try as hard as you want to try to be close to somebody, be their friend, whatever it is, but everyone is different as people, so for me, it’s never personal,” said Simmons of Embiid. “I don’t have any anger or hate towards him. He is who he is and I am who I am. And we’ve got our personal lives. And work is basketball, so in that moment, my goal is to win and I got to win with Jo. He’s a great player, we just didn’t get it done.”
Embiid famously criticized Simmons after the Game 7 loss to the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, calling his decision to pass up a shot at the rim for a dropoff to Matisse Thybulle the “turning point” in the game.
As for his shooting, Simmons once again reiterated it is what it is, but also noted that Giannis Antetokounmpo had similar issues.
“Even if I hit a shot, what are they going to say? ‘I still can’t.’ F---, I can’t make everybody happy, you know? ... That’s like saying can Giannis [Antetokounmpo] shoot? Can he?”
When Friedell noted that the Bucks big man had improved, Simmons had this retort.
“Yeah, better. But, what is it? Is it not taking as many shots as people want me to? Is it not hitting every shot? Fans are always going to say something. And it’s probably something that they’re like, ‘Yo, I can get in his head by doing this because I know this has always been something that people have spoken about.’ But at the same time [people say], ‘Ben can make great plays,’ so ...”
As for Philly fans, Simmons said he it didn’t bother him that the whole arena was chanting “F--- Ben Simmons!” when he returned, hurt, on March 10 of last season. Even without Simmons, the Nets won that game by 29 and Philly fans wound up booing their own team.
“Because I don’t know them. They don’t know me. They know the basketball side of me, but that’s not who I am as a person. And that’s the competitive nature of being in a hostile place like Philadelphia, you know? I was drafted there, it ended in a way where not everyone was happy about it, but that’s basketball, right? And it’s Philly. (chuckles) Like I don’t know if that’s happening in Indiana or anything like that. That’s Philly. That’s Philly for you...
“[E]verything’s an experience and a learning situation. So for me I’m able to learn something that I’ve never been through before. I’ve never been traded and played against a team that I got traded from. Kev has, Ky has, a lot of guys have, but I’ve never been in that situation so — you have to go through it.”
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