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Spears: Ben Simmons says he will ‘dominate people’ again

In his most in-depth interview in nearly a year, Ben Simmons talks about his excitement about a return, his regimen, his relationship with the Nets.

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In a lengthy, detailed and often candid exclusive interview, Marc J. Spears of Andscape gets Ben Simmons to talk about a range of things from his physical and mental state, his excitement at returning not just as good as before but better and how, yes, he wants to prove to his critics how much he loves the game and how good he is at.

But Simmons also discusses how he definitely came back from his May 2022 back surgery too early, that he and Jacque Vaughn had a lot to work out this summer after an admittedly poor relationship with the head coach.

But the major theme of the interview is Simmons swagger, that with his health at “100%” he is “excited” — a word in various forms he uses multiple times in the interview — about being able to “dominate” the game. He even talks about working on spot up threes. (Pause here for visions of Philly fans displaying nodding heads and knowing smiles.)

“I feel I’m at 100% now. Right now, I’m just building back to where I’m playing,” he told Spears. “I haven’t played in a while. Just taking hits and getting my body used to that.”

And with health, he is excited about the possibilities.

“For me to come back and dominate people will be great,” Simmons said. “I don’t intend to come back the same player I was last [season], because that’s not even close to where I am. I get excited because I’m like, ‘Damn, I would [expletive] on the player I was last year.’ But I know where I was at last year, so it’s easy to say that. But it’s just fun to go and do the thing that you love when you’re out there. That’s really it for me. I don’t really ask for too much...

“The version I’m at now, if I was playing against myself from last season, I would kill him. That’s how I feel.”

He also believes that his best days are ahead of him.

“I’m excited because I know I can do it,” Simmons told ESPN Andscape Friday. “So, that’s the exciting part for me. [Last Thursday] night, I’m like, ‘Yo, let’s get back in the gym.’ I’m excited. I get to do something I love to do at a high level. Regardless of what people say, I’m a three-time All-Star, All-NBA player, [All-] Defensive Team. I’ve done things. I’m not somebody that hasn’t done anything.”

Simmons spoke as well about how his six month long regimen has gone and how he’s started to play 2-on-2 in the past two weeks with hopes of adding players.

“So, I wake up, I’ll get ready. I’ll get on the [training] table with my trainer Scott. Eat breakfast, get on the table, get treatment done for about like an hour, 45 minutes. Depending on what day, I’ll do Pilates first. I’ll do some knee loading and then I’ll either hop on the bike [Peloton] or go straight to facility. And then head to the gym, but depending on what stage we were at with the rehab. At the start, I got in the OTG [Off the Grid Fitness], so the treadmill with the air, so it’s taking your body weight off. Once we got that, we were more onto the court, then we usually hit a lift right after. Then depending on what is next, we usually go back and shoot, depending on if it’s a long session or a short session.

“It’s five, six hours daily. And then the more I can progress, the more I’m allowed to do, the better I’m feeling. So, recently, I’ve been enjoying it a lot more because I’ve been allowed to do a lot more, which has been exciting.”

And while he’s only doing 2-on-2, Simmons says he’s in “a great place in terms of playing.”

“I’ve been doing 2-on-2 for two weeks. We started from 1-on-1, minimal contact to start, and now it’s building up. I’m taking hits. I’m doing more movement. There’s some things I do on the court where I’ll do it, see how it feels, and then it’s like a process. Your brain’s relearning certain movements and things like that. But I’ve been feeling great and progressing well.

“So, we’re at 2-on-2 and we’re introducing more bodies on the floor. But I’m in a great place in terms of playing.”

His swagger was most evident when he talked about part of his rationale in wanting to get back to where the Nets need him. He wants to be able to get back at the doubters.

“We’re in Brooklyn now. I have a chance to come back and turn people’s heads, or people take back what they said before,” he told Spears. In that vein, here’s Stephen A. Smith’s reaction Wednesday to Spears interview...

Jacque Vaughn who’s been down to see him three times this season says Simmons have talked about where he’ll play next season, amid some speculation that maybe he should be playing something other than the 1.

“Point guard. That’s who I am,” he emphasized to Spears. “As much as people say, ‘Fix this, fix that.’ No, I’m a point guard. When I was playing at that [high] level, nobody was really saying anything to me.”

So, coach Vaughn has communicated that to you? Spears asked.

“Yeah. We’ve spoken about that. I think he’s come down enough to where he knows, ‘OK, he’s going to be ready.’”

But his relationship with Spears is something that he says while great now was problematic back in February as the Nets were dealing left and right and his health was worsening. He admits there were issues.

“I feel like our relationship, to start, was terrible. There was just so many different factors going into the team. We had [former Nets head coach] Steve [Nash] and then [Vaughn] became the head coach. Kev [Kevin Durant], Ky [Kyrie Irving] leave. I’m not playing. I don’t really have a relationship with [Vaughn] like that because he wasn’t the head coach, because there’s a little distance, or a little gap between assistants and injured players sometimes. And I got mad at him because there was no communication. There’s none of that. So, [I’m] kind of a little frustrated with Coach. I know Coach is frustrated with me,” he said, describing how things were then.

“One day, people are telling him [I’m] good, and next, it’s not. From the start, I wasn’t good. So, it was a tough situation for him and myself. But now having the right plan and team around me, now he’s seen, ‘OK, he is dedicated. He wants to work. He wants to win, and he’s willing to do what he needs to do to be on the court.’

“So now, we’re in a great place. I speak to him every other day. And I’m excited because I think Coach is great. Great as a person, great coach. That’s the main thing, just being a good human. He can relate to a lot of players, he’s played the game. So, it’s good.”

Simmons also said how he came back too early from his May 5, 2022 back surgery in Los Angeles.

“Yeah, definitely. I was definitely on the floor when I shouldn’t have been on the floor at the start of the season,” he said, noting that he felt pressure to play. “But I also don’t think I was in a place not to play. That played into it too, but at the end of the day, my body is my career, so I do need it to be healthy. So, I made decisions based on just trying to please the people. I don’t think that was right, personally, for me. But I’m a competitor and I do want to compete.”

He did not detail where that pressure was coming from. He also said that the rehab specialists he was working with after surgery were not the same people he had dealt with before surgery, that they didn’t know his body. He did not detail who the rehab specialists work for.

“Rehab was a little different because it wasn’t with people that I’ve been with before, so it kind of felt a little bit new. It was just one of those things where they didn’t really know my body, so they didn’t know what I really needed at the time. Tried to come play that next season, wasn’t able to do it,” he told Spears. “Regardless of people telling me to push myself, physically I wasn’t able to do it. I could barely jump. I’m over here air balling hook shots because I can’t even land on my left knee anymore.”

Now, as Spears notes, Simmons feels “This is the best I’ve felt in like two years”

He also scoffed at the notion that he would abandon Brooklyn like KD and Kyrie.

“Out of Brooklyn? I love Brooklyn,” he said. “I don’t have an issue with Brooklyn. For me, I want to get healthy. The only thing I could do was get healthy. I couldn’t complain about anything. I’m in a great city, a great organization, great owners, great coach, great GM [general manager]. It’s all good people around, and they want to win and do it the right way.”

Simmons was careful to not to detail issues he may have had with Durant or Irving before they were traded, but he left little doubt that he is happier with this group than those who departed.

“There’s so many different things that went on last year that you just wouldn’t expect, which sucks, because you want to go out and just play and compete,” he said, diplomatically, then add: “And that is the nice thing about being in Brooklyn right now … We got great guys on the team, and guys that just want to hoop. I don’t want drama either.”

And yes, Spears asked the question required of any interviewer who sits across from Simmons. What about his shooting?

“Touch shooting, pull-ups, spot [-up] 3’s. Just everything. When I’m allowed to be who I am and move how I need to move, I will be in a good place. The sky is the limit.”

As for all those beefcake images of a shirtless Simmons, he said he is stronger than he’s ever been and adding muscle, adding strength is part of the rehab process.

“Way stronger. The strongest I’ve been physically, in terms of like moving weight. This is the strongest my core has ever been,” he told Spears. “So, these days, I can’t not do core. Core has got to be a part of my everyday life. Knee loading is another thing I do strengthening my legs. And then it helps with my back, too. Training my back and there’s just different exercises. Just like every night Pilates. Every day, doing a lot of core exercises just to keep that all going.

“That’s the biggest thing, being in tune with my body. Everything feels easier.”

He wouldn’t put a number on where he thinks the Nets will be in the win column this season, but noted that no one thought the Heat would be in the Finals this year either.

“About to find out. About to find out. That’s really it. Every year, that question asked probably a lot, too. But we just never know. Nobody would’ve guessed Miami was going to be in the [2023 NBA] Finals, so I think when everything goes right injurywise and you have everything, a good rhythm together, you can do anything.”

There’s a lot more in there including details he’s share before about his back pain, his penchant for fishing off the Florida coast, his newfound love for Florida, the role his new agent played in getting things straight with the Nets, his desire to play with Australia at next year’s Olympics, etc. Bottom line though is that Ben Simmons believes he is in a good place.

You can take it all with a grain of salt. Skepticism is good, but the steady drumbeat of positive comments, from Jacque Vaughn, Sean Marks, Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie, his agent, Bernie Lee, and now Simmons himself may be all part of a calculated, spun-out narrative, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true or won’t be.