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Ben Simmons hype — or is it hope? — train rolls along at Nets Media Day

After praise from his head coach and general manager last week, Ben Simmons felt the love from his teammates at media day

Brooklyn Nets Media Day Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

As it often does, optimism reigned supreme at Brooklyn Nets Media Day. After all, that’s what the day is for; every team is undefeated and often as healthy as they’ll be all year, nobody’s dissatisfied with their minutes ... yet, and media questions seem far less annoying after a summer break.

And while it’s not always easy to cut through the PR-perfected platitudes, there was an unmistakable air of peace emanating from these Nets during the day's festivities; no longer are they burdened by superstar expectations, no longer do those superstars necessitate unpleasant question-and-answer sessions.

“We’re in a winning position, not necessarily a championship position like we were with the superstars, so somewhere in the middle,” said Spencer Dinwiddie, honest as ever.

Yet, as Dinwiddie would later point out, that doesn’t have to be a buzzkill. The friendship that the now-reunited ex-Mavericks Dennis Smith Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith share lights up a room. As does the relief that Harry Giles has to be back in an NBA training camp. When he says, “It’s amazing man. The journey is really about how you dictate it...I love the game of basketball, I love what I do,” those words ring anything but hollow.

That brings us to the long-curious case of Ben Simmons, likely the toughest task of delineation on Monday afternoon. Was the praise thrown his way just an opportunity for us to step on another rake, to drool over basic Media Day fodder? Or was it a natural continuation of what Nets fans have been hearing all summer, both from unnamed “sources” and the horse’s mouth in interviews with Marc J. Spears and Tina Cervasio?

Remember, last Tuesday, Jacque Vaughn and Sean Marks answered questions at HSS Training Center and assured media that Ben Simmons was playing five-on-five, “no restrictions.”

It may be encouraging to hear Simmons looks strong at various workouts in a Miami safehouse, but how about a no-caveats confirmation that the oft-injured Aussie is 100% good to go?

Not to mention Marks claiming, “we know Ben better now as a person and as a player,” and Vaughn’s exceptionally honest answer about their relationship:

“Ben’s and I’s relationship is in such a good place right now because we’ve been able to talk through that moment of our lives where I expected him to do things that I’ve come to understand that physically he wasn’t able to do. I think at that time, you kept hearing me talk about force, and those things and how I wanted him to play. And so now, a revelation where I’ve seen the work he’s put in, where he was at, some of those things have been revealed to me, and I think that’s why our relationship is at a really good place right now.”

On Monday, Simmons all but confirmed Vaughn’s side of the story with a matching account of his own:

“I think our relationship was a little up-and-down, obviously, from the start. I mean, it’s hard for a coach to really trust and believe in you when he’s not seeing it, right? And I’m not able to physically do a coach, I’d do the same thing. I’m not gonna play you when you’re not able to compete and do the things I know you can do, right?

“So I think just this summer, I’ve taken the time to get healthy obviously. He came down to Miami a few times and saw me, I think that’s what it was. He’s able to see me get healthy, put the work in, and put the time in and focus on myself and show him that I want to play at this level and be the point guard and do these things.

“So I think that comes with grace. When you put that work in, you’re gonna get grace from the surrounding people, your teammates, your coaches, and staff.”

Yes, we are still on the outside looking in and will be until he sets foot on the court. But with each party feeling free to speak so openly about a dynamic that was once on the fritz, it’s safe to call the relationship mended. Should the good vibes continue, Bernie Lee, a noted fixer-upper whom Simmons hired as his agent this spring, may be a dark-horse MVP candidate for Brooklyn.

Judge for yourself. Simmons seemed poised and confident, even a bit ornery at one point...

While that’s all good and well, the most important question remains? How the hell is Simmons looking on the court? We won’t truly know until the regular season starts, with the squad just having played pickup ball to this point, but if you trust the words of his teammates, Nets fans should be expecting a highly productive player:

Mikel Bridges added that Simmons “looks good; like, real good. And that’s just a big factor for us, on what we want to be, what we’re trying to get to. I mean, happy that he’s healthy, and I know he’s feeling good. But he’s been looking good and is having fun out there; I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Better yet, Simmons doesn’t need to return to All-Star form to positively impact Brooklyn. His value should outweigh his raw production, based on roster construction. As it stands, the Nets have one tried-and-true ball-handler in Dinwiddie, and a decent bench option in Smith Jr. That’s it. For a team that was ultimately undone by offensive malaise in their first-round sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers last season, Simmons has the potential to add so much by doing so little.

If the ex-Sixer can ignite the team in transition, if he can zip the ball from one side of the floor to the other with either his dribble or a pass, if he can at least put some pressure on the paint with the threat of a bucket, Brooklyn can reap great rewards.

Cam Johnson seems to think so, too:

“There’s not many players in the league that can do what he does. His size and athleticism, and his ability to distribute the ball, defend, rebound, score the ball. He’s a setup guy, and for myself, I can really benefit playing with him. I saw that even in the short stint that we played together last year when he wasn’t fully healthy...So building that synergy will be big and will be something that we’ll have to do going forward. But I think it can bear a lot of fruit.”

Is this all typical Media Day bluster, simply applied to the largest question mark facing the 2023-’24 Brooklyn Nets entering the season?

No, at least not fully. It was fair to be skeptical when unnamed sources squawked during the summer. As it was when Ben10’s head coach and general manager told us this information last week. Hell, it’s still reasonable to be skeptical, even as Simmons’ teammates vouch for him, even when he vouches for himself...

After all, Ben Simmons’ last productive season overlapped with the Trump administration. Even more damning, Simmons and the media were singing an identical tune last season.

BUT...He’s healthy. His employers and teammates talk of a new and improved Simmons that’s playing confidently in workouts, of a Simmons that would certainly add much-needed juice to this Brooklyn Nets roster. It's okay to be a fan rather than a cynic, even if just for a moment. If not at Media Day, when?