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Nets’ Simmons ready to ‘dominate people’

Claims to have swagger back in ESPN Andscape interview

August 30, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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While many continue to ponder whether the Nets will see Ben Simmons flash his previous All-Star form here in Brooklyn, the enigmatic point guard insists he’s ready to be better than he’s ever been this coming season.

“For me to come back and dominate people will be great,” Simmons told ESPN Andscape last week, revealing that he’s fully recovered from a back injury that sidelined him for the Nets’ run to the playoffs last year.

“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,'” he added.

Nets coach Jacque Vaughn didn’t have Ben Simmons for the playoffs last year due to a back injury. AP Photo by Darren Abate

The Nets will take any facsimile of the player they hoped they’d get back in the 2022 trade-deadline deal that sent James Harden to Philadelphia for Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks.

But instead, Simmons has flummoxed Nets fans.

He sat out the remainder of the 2021-22 campaign, watching as Brooklyn was swept out of the opening round of the postseason by Boston.

Last season, Simmons finally made his Nets debut, playing in 42 games, including 33 starts.

But he hardly resembled the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year or three-time All-Star he was in the City of Brotherly Love.

The 6-foot-10 Australian averaged 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game, safely below his career numbers in each category.

Once the Nets dealt away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in February, Simmons once again became an absentee in the Nets’ lineup. He played just twice after Brooklyn’s twin superstars were sent to Phoenix and Dallas, respectively.

Though there was speculation that Simmons would return for the Nets’ postseason series against his former team, head coach Jacque Vaughn revealed that he would not be available until 2023-24.

“Ben will not be joining us the rest of the year and through the playoffs,” Vaughn said in late March. “After consulting with our doctors, multiple specialists, he’s just going to begin a rehab program. Our doctors and the specialists feel and think that he’ll have a full recovery so that starts now.”

The Sixers subsequently swept the Nets out of the playoffs and Simmons’ name was mentioned in trade rumors for disgruntled Portland point guard Damian Lillard.

Though he sat out the entire 2021-22 season between Philadelphia and Brooklyn due to mental health concerns as well as back and knee issues, Simmons feels his mind and body are right for a special year at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

“I’m excited because I know I can do it,” Simmons revealed in the interview. “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.”

But he hasn’t done much as a Net yet. Something he can begin changing come Opening Night here against Cleveland on Oct. 25.

“At the end of the day, that’s what you want to do,” Simmons said. “You want to go out and compete against the best in the world and be one of the best.”

On a team that already features Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Nic Claxton and Spencer Dinwiddie, a new and improved Simmons might significantly bolster the Nets’ stock in the Eastern Conference.

Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges will all benefit from getting a healthy Ben Simmons back in the lineup in 2023-24. AP Photo by Jason DeCrow

Especially if he continues his quest to “dominate” those who try to get in his way.

“I put so much work in, and I know where I’m at. Give me another month until training camp. I’m blessed to have that time,” Simmons said.

“I feel I’m going to have less time, but I’m using each day as an opportunity to get better. There’s no other option. People ask me. There’s no other option. I have to kill. That’s all I can do.”

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