There’s a reason Mikal Bridges was among the finalists the Teammate of the Year ... finishing second only to three-time winner Jrue Holiday of the Bucks. He understands the role, indeed relishes it.
That was evident Monday in Paul George’s interview of the Nets wing. George, who is a big fan of Bridges, asked about Ben Simmons who of course remains the biggest question mark of the upcoming season. Can he return from back surgery and a less than standout season last year when he played only 42 games and had subpar individual statistics?
“Ben is my guy, man. I got confidence, I got big faith in him this year,” Bridges told George on his Podcast*P show, offering a look inside the Nets off-season connectivity. “His back was messed up. Now that he’s got surgery and he’s getting back. He love the game, bro. I think he’s in a good place, f*cks with all of us like we’re close. He’s the one talking in the chat all the time and we all f*ck with him.”
Bridges added that the Nets’ expectations of Simmons upcoming season is not so much about his basketball success, but his personal success getting beyond the mental health issues that led, in part, to holdout during the 2021-22 season while still with Philly. The holdout cost him millions before he was traded to the Nets and subsequently underwent back surgery.
“Obviously, we want to score and all that but we ain’t pressed about it like we just want him to be him,” he told George who currently plays for the Clippers.
When George asked how what support system Bridges and his teammates are using to help Simmons. Bridges said it’s being there for Simmons to help him deal with the pressure of a highly anticipated return.
“Just be there with him man, support him, even if he struggled, that’s cool,” he told George. “Like, sh*t, whatever city we’re in, we gonna hang out, go get dinner, whatever you want, get ready for the next one.
“I think that’s the biggest thing. just (so) he can be confident enough to fail and know like you’re there for him. You don’t want nobody to feel that pressure every single time, ‘Oh, if I don’t play well... oh shit, these guys might not like me.’ For me that’s not the case. ‘Listen, bro, you struggle, you struggle. we wanna be there for you through the process. If you shoot five middies in a row and you miss all five, fuck it, shoot the sixth one.’”
As Kristian Winfield tweeted, Bridges specifically cited plays this past season that could herald how he and Simmons could work together.
Mikal Bridges recalls this play with Ben Simmons on PG's pod: “We had an out-of-bounds play. It might have been two seconds left. I told him, ‘When you get it out, I’m running down and just chuck it.’ He took the ball out and just threw that [thing] full court." #Nets https://t.co/N5HmT7zAGb pic.twitter.com/687QhmIUbH— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) July 25, 2023
One thing Simmons always does is push the ball after grabbing a rebound, which setup Bridges here for the and-one.— Kristian Winfield (@Krisplashed) July 25, 2023
Bridges said when Philly initially drafted him 10th in 2018, he started thinking: "You know how many cuts, catch-&-shoots & transition pts imma get with Ben?” https://t.co/UFqXebRGCR pic.twitter.com/A1fEs4fmq9
George, following up, said he believes that Simmons can return to form.
“I’m a big fan of Ben Simmons, man. He still has that game in him like you don’t (just) lose it,“ George told Bridges.
The Bridges comments were the latest in a string of public statements by Sean Marks, Jacque Vaughn and Spencer Dinwiddie on Simmons. The Nets have been patient with the 6’11” point forward’s rehab. They shut him down in March even before the season ended and set up a return-to-game regimen with a September 1 date for him to be ready to go. He has been working out of late at the University of Miami gym in Florida. Marks and a delegation of Nets performance types visited him in late June to check on his progress.
He posted this four days ago...
Bridges spoke as well about another oft-maligned teammate, Cam Thomas, who he called “my guy.”
“Cam, that’s my guy. He’s tough as hell, too,” Bridges said then explained how he was impressed with Thomas on his arrival in Brooklyn, not long after the string of 40-point games. “Before I got there, I’m looking at him and some of the shots he’s taking, I’m thinking ‘whatever.’ Then, I got there and I saw ... the first day I got there and I was shooting with him... I love all that moving left and shooting fades, really fading.”
As for improving his own game, Bridges talked about becoming a better playmaker.
““I don’t wanna be a guy that just has 30 all the time. I wanna get triple doubles,” he said, joking, “Because I f*ck with my teammates so much I want everybody to eat. I want to still control the game but make sure everyone is happy.”
Bridges will be headed out to Team USA training camp with Cam Johnson in a matter of days. Camp opens in Las Vegas on August 1.
- Mikal Bridges: ‘Big confidence, big faith’ in Ben Simmons’ return from back injury - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Nets’ Mikal Bridges jokes on Clippers’ Paul George podcast about Suns trading him for Kevin Durant - Dana Scott - Arizona Republic