Lost in all the discussion of Sean Marks’ criticism of Kyrie Irving and the need for a reboot of the vaunted Net culture was some good news: the positive vibes coming about Ben Simmons.
Now, Brian Lewis reports that those positive vibes are being bolstered by a plant to get Simmons ready, one shared by the team and those close to Simmons. Details are scarce but intentions are good.
“We will work together with the Nets on a summer plan,” a source close to Simmons told The Post. “Everyone is confident.”
Marks laid out, in general terms what the Nets want to see from the 6’11” three-time All-Star and two-time all-Defensive player and what the franchise can do.
“We are doing everything possible we can get him around our group. That is the key. He needs to be in here, smell the gym again, around his friends, around his family and to participate in this and let us help him build a culture together. Build up together, build him back up. He’s a big, big part of this,” Marks said Wednesday.
There are signs that Simmons is gravitating towards that goal. He’s sold his $4.55 million mansion in Moorestown, NJ, outside Philly and is trying to sell his Ritz-Carton Hotel residence in Center City Philadelphia as well. Instead of spending time in his new $17.5 million home in LA’s Hidden Hills gated community, he’s been seen walking the streets of Manhattan with his fiancée’, Maya Jama. He’s around, in other words.
The plan reportedly emerged the day that Simmons pulled out of Game 4 of the Celtics series when the Nets front office and representatives of Klutch Sports, Simmons agency, spoke about next steps. Shams Charania wrote of the meeting…
[B]oth sides have an entire offseason to work through his situation and find a way for him to prove himself on the floor again. Both sides are expected to stay in communication and continue to work toward Simmons, who has three years and $114 million remaining on his contract, feeling ready to play again.
One of the first steps in the plan appears to be simply offering Simmons encouragement after the often ugly series of events following his final decision not to play. Various Hall of Famers and high-profile pundits suggested he simply didn’t want to play, was a coward, had a mental block … what have you. The Nets lost the narrative on their own player. Now, they want everyone to know that a corner has turned. Marks explained the timeline of what happened in those few days — consultation with doctors, a second MRI and ultimately the decision to go with out-patient surgery in Los Angeles.
“We’ve had lengthy discussions about how much he can contribute and how much he really means to our roster. There’s a gaping hole and he fits some needs that we’ve talked about in the past,” said Marks.
He even offered optimism that things are already turning around for Simmons.
“I can tell you from the communications I’ve had with him multiple times since the surgery, he’s feeling relief already and feeling great. He knows that it goes back to that five months, he has a big build-up to get ready and contribute,” said Marks on Wednesday.
“Regarding Ben post-surgery now, I don’t want to speak for him but I can sense there’s a relief,” the GM added. “There’s a new lease on life, so to speak. When you are able to take a problem and say that should be fixed and move that out of here and now it’s on to the rest.”
Marks also noted that the Nets will help him with mental health issues but added it’s a touchy subject and prefers Simmons speak on that. The Nets have had a performance psychologist, Dr. Paul Groenewal either on staff or as a consultant since July 2017 and more than one Nets player has praised his efforts. Simmons has his own mental health professional as well.
The bottom line for the Nets of course is not just rehabilitating Simmons said physical health or helping him deal with his mental issues (which as he and we detailed were by no means limited to his problems with 76er fans and teammates). They have to rehabilitate his reputation, too. He may be a convenient meme in Philadelphia, a frequent target on ESPN but he is primarily one of the best young players in the NBA when healthy.
Simmons has ranked in the top six in assist per game averages in three of his last four seasons he played. In his first four years in the NBA he had assisted on more 3-point field goals than any other NBA guard. He was the runner-up in the Defensive Player of the Year the last season he played. He led the NBA in steals two years ago.
Marks and Steve Nash both made that point Wednesday.
“He fits a lot of holes, plugs a lot of holes that we think we potentially have with him, in there it’s a different dynamic out there,” said the GM. “It’s a different dynamic for not only his teammates and what they’ll be asked to do in the roles they have to cover. So they can put people in places where they were honestly brought here to do and not try to fill a different role.”
“He’s just such a well-rounded, versatile athlete and skilled, player that I think it would be limiting to say, ‘hey you’ve got to handle the ball all the time. You have to facilitate the offense all the time.’ I think that’s what’s special about him is the varied skills he brings to the table, so yes he will facilitate and be the point guard. He will also sometimes be the center. Other times he will be the guy that’s just playing position-less basketball trying to create offense in the halfcourt, so I think for me it’s playing to his strengths which are varied and all those things are a part of it.”
Rehabbing the physical and mental aspects of Ben Simmons may take some time. Rehabbing his reputation will only come when he steps out of the court after missing 16 months of competitive basketball.
There are still mysteries, of course, that should be unraveled, like what happened in late February or early March when first word came that something was wrong and he underwent his first MRI. He had had back issues for his last two years in Philly at one point vomiting on the court from lower back pain. Was it something that was missed or was hidden? It’s been Stephen A. Smith’s issue and despite the bombast, it’s not a small one.
In fact, John Hollinger of The Athletic suggested this week that if it’s determined that the Nets were unaware of how bad the back issue was, they could pursue “additional compensation,”
“One also has to wonder exactly how much of this the Nets were of at the time of the trade, and if they might pursue additional compensation from the Sixers in light of the back issue’s emergence,” he asked.
That would be a league issue, Hollinger said, adding don’t expect much even if the Nets pursued it.