The Ben Simmons roll-out continued this week with news that the guard has passed more milestones in his six-month long rehab that began when Brooklyn’s season ended in April. It all seemed planned out for maximum effect and why not? As every Nets fan would acknowledge a healthy Ben Simmons, playing at the level we saw his first four years in the league would literally be a game-changer.
- Marc J. Spears reported on ESPN that a source “close to Simmons” told him that “Ben Simmons is in final stage of prep” ... “as healthy as he’s been since Philly.”
- 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.
- Simmons, per SNY’s Ian Begley, has completed the rehab portion of his offseason and is “100% healthy“ and “now solely focused on skill work and conditioning as he prepares for 2023-24 training camp,” sources told SNY.
- Mikal Bridges told Paul George that Simmons has been fully engaged with his teammates in the Nets group chat adding, “Ben is my guy, man. I got confidence, I got big faith in him this year,” Bridges told George on his Podcast*P show,
Moreover, all the reporting has noted that there have been no setbacks at all for Simmons.
That of course fueled a round of fan speculation, tempered by justified skepticism, on how a healthy Simmons, a Philly-like Simmons, would help the Nets. Yes, we have been down this path before, like last summer, but everyone from Sean Marks to Bernie Lee wants us to believe this time, it will be different.
It should also be noted that IF Simmons is healthy, it will be the first time in a number of years that he hasn’t been troubled by his back, his knees, etc.
MentoneMustang, one of NetsDaily’s most active posters, noted just how long in chronicling Simmons injuries since February 2020, the season when he reached his apex, being named All-NBA third team as well as All-Defense and an NBA All-Star.
- In February 2020 in a game against the Bucks, Simmons had a hard fall and was left lying on his back, vomiting from the pain. He had an epidural injection to relieve pain and was sidelined until the NBA restarted the season in July 2020 in the Disney bubble.
- In August 2020, playing in the “bubble,” he suffered a partially dislocated kneecap in a game against Wizards. He left the “bubble” for surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee so missed the delayed playoffs in which the Sixers were swept 4–0 by the Celtics!
- In October 2021, during his hold out, Simmons complained of back soreness in declining to join a 76ers practice which led to the first of his $18 million in fines.
- In February 2022, after being traded to the Nets, Simmons hurt his back while climbing stairs. Simmons explained he initially had “soreness” in his back while he was working out and he went to “run up the stairs” and his “whole right side just dropped ... “As soon as I went upstairs, I laid down, and I could not move.”
- In mid March 2022 he had an epidural injection to help relieve back pain. An MRI in April 2022 showed the bulging disc had worsened.
- On May 5, 2022 Simmons finally had a microdiscectomy on the L4-5 disc in his lower back to relieve the pressure. Simmons had previously resisted back surgery, hoping he could get by with various treatments.
- In early December 2022 he had fluid drawn from his knee and a platelet-rich plasma injection. This was repeated in February of this year.
- On February 23, he mentioned during an interview that he was bothered by an ankle sprain. “It’s a little swollen, but I’m happy with an ankle sprain over anything with the knee or back,” Simmons said of his tweaked ankle. “So I’ll take this over anything else.”
At the time, Simmons said that his knee soreness is related to his back surgery he underwent last spring and stressed that he still has a ways to go before he’s feeling 100% again”.
“Back surgery is not a light thing so it takes time,” he told Brian Lewis at the time. “Back surgery, you’re affected everywhere. Your knees. So it’s just something I gotta stay on top of. I’ve been saying it from the start. There’s gonna be ups and downs. … I’m not gonna be the same player I was a few years ago. That’s gonna take time to get back.”
Lewis noted back then that medical experts had told him that full recovery from back surgery can take up to 18 months. In Simmons case, that would mean he should be ready for the season. The Nets plan has him being ready to go by September 1. (Simmons wanted to play for the Australian national team in the FIBA World Cup starting next month, but he eventually agreed with the Nets that cutting short his rehab wasn’t worth the risk. Simmons reportedly told Basketball Australia that he fully expects to play for the Boomers at the Paris Olympics next summer.)
Questions remain about Simmons health, despite all the good news. Big men like the 6’11” Simmons have back, knee, and foot injuries. Brook Lopez who didn’t miss a quarter his first three years in the league had five surgical procedures on his foot subsequently. Michael Porter Jr. has had three back surgeries, etc. Then, there’s the mental aspect of all this. How will he react the first time he’s out there in front of 18,000 fans?
So is it worth it to be optimistic? Sure. What’s the alternative? In the meantime, enjoy...
Cam Thomas talks past and future
Cam Thomas was on Gilbert Arenas podcast this week and talked about both his incredible streak of three 40-point games between the departure of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The usually taciturn Thomas had some fun talking about how he took advantage of the lack of superstars back in February.
When Arenas offered encouragement and told him he had to ready, Thomas talked about the opportunity, joking that with so many players coming or going, Jacque Vaughn had no choice but to play him.
“Had to be, had to be,” he told Arenas about being ready. “Because we was transitioning from the super team to getting those guys out of there because that was when Ky got traded then K got traded like two days after so it was like, we was starting to transition a little bit. So, I was like ‘Sh*t, I mean they gotta play me now, you know? K ain’t playing, Ky ain’t playing. So I’m going to go out there and kill.”
And kill, he did, with games of 44, 47 and 43 in the games between Irving walked away from Brooklyn and when Mikal Bridges arrived. Then, in the final game of the season, he once again hit 40, giving him four 40-point games on the season, more than Durant (three), Irving (two) and Bridges (three). Of course, why he’d didn’t play more after the February streak frustrated not just him but a whole lot of Nets fans. He was getting encouragement, he told Arenas, from Durant and Irving. How’d the two help him?
“Everything really,” he said. “My rookie year, K told me (to) always get closer to the hoop because sometimes when you first come in, you take long twos and then, he told me just try to get in the painted area to get to your middies because it’s always there, honestly. So, he was like, start from inside-out because kids now, they try to go three ball, then to the hoop, you know? Because K got like an old school game as far as like inside-out, middies, pull-ups and then, he’ll go out to three. you know, K don’t shoot a lot of threes like everybody doing in today’s game. So, I mean, that’s really the main thing.
“And Ky’s just Ky, man. Left hand, right hand, and he got literally everything. So, it was like I learned so much from them and you know, they really helped me in my career so far.” said Thomas.
So what’s he doing this summer to get more minutes next season?
“Really just focusing on just get my body right, conditioning aspect, but I mean obviously off-court stuff is there. You know, we all hoop, but we just gonna keep working on everything. Really just getting my body right and just being more in better shape, better condition.”
Word out of HSS Training Center is that CT is working hard and with the Nets losing three 3-point specialists on the perimeter in Joe Harris, Patty Mills and Seth Curry, I mean they gotta play him more, right?
(H/T to Sharif Phillips-Keaton for transcribing the interview.)
Remember, back in June when Andre Iguodala created a bit of a stir when he tweeted this...
Hello Brooklyn…— andre (@andre) June 7, 2023
No, he wasn’t joining the Nets roster as a player and curiosity about the tweet faded. But, in Point Forward, a podcast with Mikal Bridges back on April 14, Iguodala hinted that he will be working with Bridges this summer ... on his point forward skills.
“This is a real point forward, especially where we gonna take him this summer when we get in the gym with him. It’s all point forward action. I’m tired of him having two assists. I chedk this man’s stats every game. He knows. Every game I’m checking.” said Iguodala as Bridges looked embarrassed. “I check your stats every night. I’m tired of one or two assists or no assists.”
There’s a lot more in there, including how Bridges answered a simple question posed by Iguodala, “who’s best player in New York?” After Evan Turner, AI’s podcast partner, mentioned Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson, Bridges teammate at Villanova, Bridges called it an unfair question, “because you know I’m going say it’s me.”
As we’ve noted, Sean Marks has said he will be headed to Manila to watch Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson play for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup starting on August 26 when the Americans, the top seed, face off against New Zealand, Marks native land. (Marks helped lead the Kiwis to a fourth-place finish —the in the Cup back in 2002 when the games were held in Indianapolis. The U.S. finished sixth.)
There will be another good reason for Marks to visit Manila, which is one of three venues in this year’s Cup. The other are Okinawa, Japan, and Jakarta, Indonesia. By luck of the draw, the Egyptian national team, featuring Patrick Gardner, will also be playing in the Philippines capital in the same arena. Egypt opens the night before vs. Lithuania.
A side note: if any of our many Filipino followers would like to be our eyes and ears in Manila, let us know in comments.
Clara Wu Tsai talks gambling, fan experience, WNBA investment
Clara Wu Tsai was one of the headline speakers at a CNBC event this past week on changes in the business of sports, appropriately called, Game Change. Wu Tsai, co-owner of the Nets and co-governor of the Liberty spoke about big issues like sports betting, particularly at arenas, and the future of the WNBA
When asked about sports betting, she echoed comments husband Joe has made in the past: if you have skin in the game, you’re likely more engaged in the game. And she pointedly noted that includes women.
“I think it’s really important because it engages fans,” Wu Tsai said of sports betting. “We know that fans who are betting engage more often and longer with our content. So anything that engages fans, and I’m talking about the NBA for sure. The WNBA too. I actually saw a statistic that said actually, the fastest growing segment of sports betting enthusiast are actually women. So I think I’m very interested but you know this it’s definitely a state by state situation.”
Joe Tsai has in the past raised the possibility of sports betting from your seats at Barclays and team officials have discussed other gambling-friendly initiatives like a sports book at the arena entrance, even gambling “kiosks” and high-rollers’ lounges. The Tsais, through the Barclays operating company, have in the past spent small amounts lobbying the state and city authorities on sports betting. The Nets have also filed for trademarks on “Brooklyn Gaming” and “Bet on Brooklyn,” which would work quite nicely if re-purposed for in-house betting.
But New York being New York, things have moved slowly. There’s no timetable for any of it.
Wu Tsai spoke as well about the couple’s investment in the WNBA. Beyond giving Barclays Center a summer time tenant for 20 dates, the Liberty could wind up as a profit center, she believes.
The NBA is a prime asset, but with emerging leagues there is potential for exponential growth,” Wu Tsai said at Game Plan, an event sponsored by CNBC and Boardroom, Kevin Durant and Rick Kleiman’s sports business company.
The Liberty, she said, fit her and Joe’s criteria for sports investment:
- The league has to have the world’s best players;
- There has to be the possibility to attract a passionate and loyal fan base;
- Owners have to be able to see how the team becomes commercially successfully.
The WNBA club, she added, has an advantage the Nets do not have, a lack of local competition.
“In the case of the WNBA, we saw an advantage we did not have with Nets, two NBA teams in New York City, but only one professional women’s team,” she said. “So we saw this great business opportunity to showcase the best women’s basketball players in the largest media market in the world.”
Success, she said, could have big payout.
“Look at almost all the economics, from revenue to player salaries. It is one-one-hundredth of the NBA. So if the WNBA just grows to 10 percent, it’s a 10x investment.”
The Tsais bought the Liberty in early 2019 from James Dolan’s MSG, reportedly for the assumption of team debt and an agreement to share any profits the team earns in the future. Little or no cash changed hands. Since then, they’ve moved the team from the 90-year-old Westchester County Center to Brooklyn and invested heavily in personnel.
Wu Tsai endorsed WNBA expansion as well.
“So I think expansion ... I think it’s great just because we’ll get more viewership, right? If you have another team in another city, you’re gonna get more fans. We’ll get more viewership. It’ll make our media rights more valuable. All of that is very important, but it’s also very important because it helps owners understand what is the true value of the business that they have,” she told the audience.
Aaron Rodgers mania is hitting the city. With the 39-year-old all dressed in green, Jets fans are getting excited for the upcoming season. Even the New York Times culture critic Wesley Morris has checked in, writing early last week, pointing out that Rodgers was seen recently at the Tony Awards, the Stanley Cup and NBA playoffs as well Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran concerts at his new home in the Meadowlands. The former Green Bay, Wis. legend has embraced the city.
In his opinion piece, Aaron Rodgers Is Now a Jet (and Becoming a New Yorker, Too), Morris also delivers what Norman Oder, the critic and chronicler of the overall Atlantic Yards project, called a “cordial enough burn” directed at Kevin Durant who Morris thinks never became a New Yorker during his three plus years in Brooklyn.
It’s so rare anymore that a person of note arrives in this city, jumps right in and, before he even does what he’s been hired to do, makes a little splash. The mighty Kevin Durant just spent four years here as a Net and, possibly even to his credit, never got anything wet.
Whether that’s fair or not is debatable. KD spent his first season in New York rehabbing from his achilles injury then got whacked by COVID “so he wasn’t exactly out and about,” as Oder pointed out.
Morris could just as easily written a column on how Mikal Bridges has similarly embraced the big city. Bridges may not have attended the Tonys, all tuxed up, but he has been everywhere of late. Bridges’ community commitment has been exemplary so far. Yet another reason to suggest that while Bridges may not be the perfect player, he is probably the perfect player for the Nets right now.