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Spears: ‘Ben Simmons in final stage of prep’ ... ‘as healthy as he’s been since Philly’

The drumbeat continues. After Sean Marks, Jacque Vaughn, Spencer Dinwiddie and Mikal Bridges expressed optimism about Ben Simmons, a source close to Simmons checks in.

Two days after Mikal Bridges offered his hope and support for Ben Simmons on his return to the Nets, Marc J. Spears of ESPN quoted a source close to the 27-year-old as saying, “He’s n the final stage of prep for season” and is “as healthy as he’s ever been since his last year in Philly.”

It was yet another in a series of reports offering optimism regarding the three-time All-Star’s recovery process. In the past three weeks, Sean Marks, Jacque Vaughn, Spencer Dinwiddie and Bridges have all spoken positively about Simmons progress.

Also on Wednesday. Simmons’ agent. Bernie Lee told Termine & Johnson on SiriusXM Radio that the “expectation” is that Simmons will be ready for the beginning of training camp on October 3 in Brooklyn.

“The expectation is that he’ll be able to start the season Day 1 of training camp and definitely the regular season without any limitations in any way,” said Lee.

Then on Thursday, Ian Begley of SNY, quoting league sources, reported that Simmons is working solely on “skill work and conditioning.”

On ESPN, after playing a clip from Bridges interview with Paul George on his Podcast P, Malika Andrews asked Spears what he has heard about Simmons status. Spears, reading directly from his mobile phone, quoted a “source close to Simmons.”

“I spoke to someone close to the LSU star,” replied Spears, then quoting the source, added, “‘I would say he’s in the final stage of prep for the season and he has passed every benchmark and he is as healthy as he has ever been since his last year in Philly. Brooklyn has been incredibly supportive and the plan is for him to be the Nets point guard and primary ball handler this coming season.

“The expectation is that he will fully resume his career at the level he had prior to leaving Philadelphia.”

Ramona Shelburne told Andrews that Simmons will have an advantage on return in that expectations for the Nets are not what they were last season when he was playing with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. (ESPN at first posted the full video of the segment on YouTube then pulled it before reposting it later Wednesday.)

“The important thing here,” said Shelburne, “is that Ben has the support of his teammates. I think one of the dynamics in Brooklyn that was hard last year for Ben was like you had Kyrie and Kevin Durant. They want to win and they weren’t part of why Ben Simmons got to the place he was mentally and physically. So when Ben comes to join their team and he’s still dealing with all that, there was an impatience there ... I think there was a frustration there. Ben could feel that.”

Shelburne added that Simmons back surgery was “very hard to come back from.”

“The expectation is that he’ll be able to start the season Day 1 of training camp and definitely the regular season without any limitations in any way,” said Lee when asked for a schedule for Simmons’ return. Lee went further, telling Termine & Johnson that Simmons will compete “at a really high level here for all of us to see.” Asked about the Melbourne native’s general health, Lee said, “He’s been great. There’s been a protocol that was established for him this summer that has benchmarks and measurements just to make sure everything’s staying on track, and I would tell you that he’s exceeded everything.”

Lee also referred to his client as a “basketball savant.”

“The thing that has really impressed me about Ben and in every conversation I have with him, he is legitimately a basketball savant.”

Simmons, per Begley, has completed the rehab portion of his offseason and is “now solely focused on skill work and conditioning as he prepares for 2023-24 training camp, league sources familiar with the matter told SNY.” Like Lee on SiriusXM, Begley’s sources said Simmons still expects to be a full participant in camp come October.

Simmons, citing mental health issues, held out the 2021-22 season before the 76ers traded him to Brooklyn in February. He didn’t play for the Nets after the trade and subsequently underwent back surgery in early May. Then last season after playing only 42 games, the Nets shut him down and he began a six month rehab, most of which has taken place in Miami. Marks said in April that he expected Simmons to be ready by September 1. In late June, Marks and the performance team traveled to Florida to check on his progress.

The positive comments are in stark contrast to the frustration both Simmons and the Nets felt in the weeks before he stopped playing in mid-February, then was officially shut down in late March.

“It’s going to be some work that we have to do,” said the head coach back then. “Because, you just take a look at what the lineups could potentially look like. You put another big next to Ben, then you got to figure out what the spacing is around him. Then, if you put another playmaker next to him, then you got to figure out what Ben looks like without the basketball. Then, if you go small with Ben, then you have to figure out can you rebound enough with him?”

Simmons was frustrated as well, having been benched for the first time in his career. Not long after being shut down, Simmons made a key decision, switching agents from Rich Paul of Klutch Sports who aggressively guided him in his holdout, to Bernie Lee, an agent with a reputation of fixing things between players and their teams. Among his other clients is Jimmy Butler.

Of course, other than re-signing Cam Johnson, getting Simmons back and healthy has been the Nets top priority this off-season. He still has two years and $78.2 million left on his contract. Now, with three months before the Nets open their season on October 24, it appears things are headed in the right direction. Still, as Shelburne said on NBA Today, we will all have to wait till Simmons takes the floor to see just how Simmons can perform.