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Nets hoping for less drama, more wins

Brooklyn to open season vs. Cleveland at Barclays

October 25, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson won’t grab as many headlines or sell as many jerseys as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving did here in Brooklyn.

But that doesn’t mean the Nets won’t be just as, if not more, productive this season.

Especially with a healthy and highly motivated Ben Simmons back on the hardwood.

Having won just one playoff series since bringing their departed superstar tandem here in the summer of 2019, the Nets will tip-off the 2023-24 season with a fresh outlook and admittedly less fanfare when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers at Downtown’s Barclays Center Wednesday.

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Bridges and Johnson came here in the February trade that sent Durant to Phoenix. Irving was dealt away to Dallas for Brooklyn favorite Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith.

Nets general manager Sean Marks also received a cache of future picks in the swaps, but held them close to the vest this summer, opting not to bring in another potential “superstar”.

That’s where Simmons comes in.

The versatile point guard looms over Brooklyn’s Eastern Conference hopes with his 6-foot-10 frame and previous history of both shining and shrinking under the NBA spotlight.

The 2018 Rookie of the Year and three-time All-Star during his first four seasons in Philadelphia, Simmons has played just 42 games, including 33 starts, here in Brooklyn after arriving from the 76ers in the February 2021 trade that sent James Harden to the City of Brotherly Love.

The Nets (45-37), spearheaded by Bridges, who averaged just over 26 points per game for Brooklyn last season, got swept out of the opening round of the playoffs by Harden and the Sixers last year as the No. 6 seed.

Mikal Bridges doesn’t have the same star power as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but he has been one of the league’s most reliable scorers. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

Simmons, who never suited up for the Nets in 2021-22, wasn’t available for postseason action last year either as he continued to recover from a back injury that was dealt with surgically in the offseason.

Finally ready to impact not only the Nets, but recover his previous All-Star form, Simmons may be the key to Brooklyn’s ascent as a contender in the East.

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn, now in his first full season at the helm after taking over for Steve Nash last November, is waiting to see if Simmons can be the ball-handler on an offense that features steady scorers like Bridges, Johnson and Dinwiddie.

“Like I said, during (last season) I had a standard for everyone and that wasn’t going to change,” Vaughn said of Simmons, who averaged 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists last year, well below his career numbers in those categories.

“And so it was hard for me to recalibrate what I was asking of an athlete, when I had seen him before do the things that I was asking,” Vaughn added.

As for Simmons, he’s eager to show Vaughn what he can do over a full 82-game season and perhaps even a deeper playoff run than many are expecting for Brooklyn.

“It’s hard for a coach to really trust and believe in you when he’s not seeing it, right?” Simmons told the Associated Press. “And I’m not able to physically do it and he can’t see it, then as a coach I would do the same thing.

“I’m still fast, I can still jump high, I’m still strong,” he insisted.

He’s also over all the injuries and mental-health concerns that limited his game over the past several years.

“Amazing, I can just do my job and that’s a blessing,” Simmons noted. “Every day, I don’t take for granted. I just come in here and do my job to the best of my ability. I’m grateful to be back, just on the court, playing and doing what I love.”

The Nets will also be buoyed by the continued development of young centers Nic Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe as well as first-round pick Noah Clowney, reserve shooting guard Cam Thomas and power forward Royce O’Neale.

Tip-off for Wednesday night’s home opener is 7:30 p.m.

Jacque Vaughn will open his first full season as Nets head coach Wednesday night in Downtown Brooklyn against the Cavaliers. AP Photo by Marta Lavandier

NOTHING BUT NET: The Nets won’t be in Brooklyn for long this week. After Wednesday’s opener, they will head out to Dallas Friday night for the opener of a four-game road trip. Brooklyn will also make stops in Charlotte Monday, Miami next Wednesday and Chicago on Nov. 3 before returning to the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Nov. 4 to host Boston. … The Nets will face Irving and the Mavericks for the first time since he was dealt Friday, and will also welcome Durant the Suns to Brooklyn on Dec. 13. … Brooklyn split its four preseason games.

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