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Sean Marks adds to optimism about Ben Simmons’ health

There really isn’t a higher priority for the Nets now that Cam Johnson is under contract. But it’s still a long way till we know what’s what.

We are not far away now from the buzz: that the Nets biggest off-season addition is ... a healthy Ben Simmons.

Two days ago, Jacque Vaughn named Simmons as one of the Nets “core” players and said he’s “excited to coach a healthy Ben Simmons.” Then Sunday, Sean Marks spoke with reporters after the Nets win in Las Vegas Sunday, revealing that he and the Nets performance staff had recently visited the 6’11” guard in Miami where he’s been working out, rehabbing from back and nerve issues. Marks liked what he saw.

“He’s not doing 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 yet.” said Marks. “I was down there two weeks ago with him and the training staff and saw the progress. Happy to report he’s in a great physical shape and also mentally. He’s rearing and champing at the bit to get out there,”

“We’ve got time,” he added. “This is not something where we’re going to rush him back in to play 5-on-5 in the next couple weeks. But he’s progressing — he’ll be ready to go hopefully very, very soon.”

The Nets original plan for Simmons rehab, — and there’s no indication that it’s changed — had Simmons ready to go by September 1. Indeed, Vaughn speaking to NBA TV on Friday said Simmons had had “no setbacks.” So how good could he be?

“I think the hope is that he returns to that (All-Star) level of play. I mean, if he was 35 years old, I wouldn’t honestly be able to tell you that. But I think knowing that he’s mid-20s and he has still hopefully not reached his prime, we’ve gotta make sure he can get back out there and get back to that form. And hopefully we see we see his game even evolve past that. But health is going to be the key to him.”

Health was also a reason why, after talking with Marks, Simmons agreed to give up his plan to join the Australian national team for next month’s FIBA World Cup.

“This particular summer he just ran out of time. It just wasn’t the right thing to do to put him out there without playing and rushing it,” said Marks. “The decision was a combination of us and Ben. We worked hand in hand throughout his rehab to bring him back to speed. The Brooklyn Nets had a say in this. We’re going to be led by the athlete as well. And I think this was made in Brooklyn’s best interest and Ben’s long-term health.”

Simmons hasn’t been fully healthy the past two seasons. In 2021-22, he held out, citing mental health issues. Then, after being traded for James Harden at the deadline in 2022, he wound up needing back surgery. Last season, still recovering from the surgery, he played only 42 games, averaging well below his career numbers in points, rebounds and assists per game.

Spencer Dinwiddie was also on hand at Cox Pavilion for the game and also expressed enthusiasm about a Simmons return. When asked by Dennis Scott what the Nets need to do to improve on last year, he immediately referred to the impact a healthy Simmons can make.

“The easy answer is Ben. You know, a healthy Ben is an all-Star max level guy. I think he could completely change the complexion of our team and can make us a really exciting group, especially defensively.

“I only got there (Brooklyn) the last half of the year. Ben was already hurt so I only played a handful of games with him but I know him from his old Philly days and for all intents and purposes he can get back to that form. I think he’s got it in him. Obviously a young guy and I’m looking forward to seeing it this season.”

Marks also discussed where he sees the Nets going forward. In short, he preached the value of flexibility over the next two or three years rather than pursuing a win-now philosophy.

“I think 100% we have to keep our flexibility. We’re looking forward not only this year, but next year, the year after that, and trying to find players that will be with us in two or three years. What does it look like? They are mid-20s, some younger than that,” he said. “What can they show us in this next season that proves that they should be part of this group in the next year or two after this?”

Marks even took a question on Kyrie Irving’s new contract with the Mavs, which includes incentives related to his availability, something the Nets wanted in their negotiations with Irving.

”When players leave here and go somewhere else, it’s a different environment, its a different opportunity for them,” said the Nets GM. “We wish them all, I wish Kyrie well and the Mavericks well. We’re obviously at a different timeline.”

Irving’s basic contract is three years and $126 million including the incentives for games played which are deemed unlikely. After the 2021-22 season, Brooklyn offered Irving $245.6 million over five with incentives.