Ben Simmons played his best game of the Nets season Tuesday night in Sacramento. It was a modest stat line — 20 minutes, 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal — in a historic blowout. It was the most points he’d scored in a game since June 14, 2021 what with his holdout and back issues last season.
But whatever positive vibes fans may have had this morning got wiped out in an Athletic piece by Shams Charania and Sam Amick who reported about the organization’s frustrations with the three-time All-Star, noting that he was the center of a players’ only meeting.
Moreover, there were new details about his knee soreness which, not surprisingly in NetsLand, is worse than let on.
Shams and Amick wrote:
According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation, the frustration surrounding Simmons had been building in recent weeks within the organization. The coaching staff and players have been concerned about his availability and level of play, with some questioning his passion for the game, those sources said. But even when he did play, Simmons’ struggles in his first nine games this season were part of the Nets frustration as well.
Simmons responded to the reported frustration, acknowledging the criticism but pointing out that his knee soreness is a very issue.
“You’re obviously not gonna be happy when anybody’s out,” Simmons told The Athletic. “But for me, I’ve been dealing with the knee since the start of the season. It’s been swollen. I had PRP (Platelet-rich plasma injections). I had blood drained a couple times. So it’s not a made up thing, you know? It’s a real thing.
“I get (the skepticism), but I think the one thing with me is that I’m a competitor. I want to win and play. So I’m gonna do what I can to get out there.”
Although not in The Athletic report, Simmons also noted post-game Tuesday that his recovery from back surgery is also real.
“It takes time, especially with a nerve injury. It takes 18 months for your nerves to fully heal. People don’t know that but over time, I’ll get better and better. Just keep pushing.”
Charania and Amick also reported that the previously reported players-only meeting on October 29 — two days before Steve Nash was replaced by Jacque Vaughn — was focused on Simmons.
Sources with direct knowledge of the meeting, but who were granted anonymity so that they could speak freely say that in that meeting, Markieff Morris — a veteran leader on these Nets — spoke up in front of all of his teammates about how they need Simmons to succeed and that he has to respond when he deals with adversity on the court. Those sources all described a meeting where Simmons appeared to take Morris’ words in stride and was responsive and attentive throughout.
Morris in a later tweet called the story “false” and expressed frustration that someone had leaked details of a team meeting...
Who’s the source? Y’all gotta chill with these false stories man! Let me and my guys hoop! https://t.co/zjh68dEZ09— Keef Morris (@Keefmorris) November 16, 2022
Morris did not detail what was false in The Athletic story.
The Athletic also quoted Jacque Vaughn on moving Simmons to the back-up center role while he continues his recovery.
“It’s the consistency piece of it,” Vaughn said about his expectations for Simmons. “Trying to stabilize this group has been the challenge overall, not only the things off the court but us having people in some games, out of some games – not (playing) back to backs. So we try to not use any excuses. This is who we are. I’m gonna coach this group. Whoever’s available that day, that’s who we’re going to play.
“So he can be considered the 5. He can be considered (a player who is) grabbing the rebound and pushing it, and he’s the 1-slash-5. And so we’ve tried to surround him with smalls where he can dribble-handoff and push the pace, and have shooters around him. It was all based off the space piece, and we needed to maximize our space with Kevin being out there on the floor. And I think as we continue to grow together as a group, that’s going to evolve. And Ben is going to evolve, and you’ll see more and better of him.”
Simmons told The Athletic that he understands he will be battling skepticism but adds there’s only so much he can do to erase it.
“There’s only so much I can really do (about perception),” Simmons said. “You can’t make people believe, you know? They weren’t there when I was on the floor and couldn’t walk (because of his back). They weren’t there when I was in the ambulance getting taken to the hospital (after a Feb. 22, 2020 game at Milwaukee). People weren’t there, so they don’t know. That was the first episode I had against Milwaukee. That was the original trigger of it…right before COVID, the start of my back issues.
“But that’s a part of my journey. There’s times when I couldn’t walk. I had a dead foot. Couldn’t sleep. A lot of stuff was going on with me, physically, to where it was tough. But there’s only so much I can say for somebody to believe, you know?”
- Inside the Nets’ building frustration with Ben Simmons as team looks to emerge from early slump - Shams Charania & Sam Amick - The Athletic
- Nets held players-only meeting to discuss Ben Simmons’ performance: Sources - Shams Charania & Sam Amick - The Athletic
- Ben Simmons was a topic in Nets’ players-only meeting - Brian Lewis - New York Post