After at least one former 76ers teammate asserted Ben Simmons wouldn’t have the fortitude to play in his March 10 return to Philadelphia — having sat out citing mental health issues — the Nets say it’s now only conditioning keeping the newly acquired All-Star from making his season debut.
Simmons hasn’t played since the 76ers’ June playoff exit, requesting a trade amid his mental health woes. But after Simmons arrived two weeks ago in a trade from the 76ers, Nets coach Steve Nash was asked whether it was conditioning or something else keeping the All-Star off the floor.
“Conditioning,” Nash said. “Just got to try and get him a place where he can … it’s been a long layoff, right? So he hasn’t played NBA basketball for a long time so just trying to work through that.”
Brooklyn hasn’t given any kind of timeline for Simmons to make his debut, other than saying he’s further behind than the injured Kevin Durant. While Simmons missed the first game coming out of the All-Star break — Thursday night against the Celtics — the Nets’ next full practice is March 5, preceding a three-game road trip.
That swing starts with a rematch in Boston, and ends March 10 in what promises to be a highly contentious return to Philadelphia.
Sixers wing Danny Green has said he doesn’t think Simmons will even take the court for his highly anticipated return, one the Philadelphia fan base is salivating for. Green questioned whether Simmons will have the gumption to play in what promises to be a heated environment, or shake hands with his former teammates if he does.
“Will we shake hands to start? Probably not. First, I’ll be highly surprised if he even plays,” Green said on his podcast, “Inside the Green Room with Danny Green.”
“I don’t know where his health is mentally, physically. I know he had other issues, and we all know he does not like playing in Philly. So if he does play in that game, I’d be highly surprised. But say that does happen. I see that as being very hectic, playoff-like environment to where it may be very rough for him.”
Simmons has been open about his mental health issues, and has been seeing a therapist. Getting him in the right headspace is every bit as important for Brooklyn as getting his wind up.
“A lot of people should be scared of a mentally healthy Ben Simmons,” said Nets forward James Johnson. “If he’s right, he’s going to be killer.”
Getting and keeping him right is paramount, and Simmons will face a cauldron whenever he does return to Philadelphia. If anything, Green may be understating the reception.
Philadelphia fans have turned “F–k Ben Simmons” into a profane mantra, chanting it at games the All-Star wasn’t even present for. Extra security will surely be needed, and many have opined he’ll be hesitant to face that environment.
For his part, when asked at his Brooklyn introduction if he’d play in that return trip, Simmons said, “I hope so.”
It remains to be seen if Simmons will have completed his ramp-up process by then, needing at least three high-intensity practices. And, of course, he’ll have to be in the right headspace.
“Well, I think it’s unfair for me to talk about Ben’s headspace,” Nash said. “All I can say is we’re excited to have him with us, and getting him back to activity after such a long layoff when he wasn’t around a group, these are periods that we want to really take our time to assess. ”
And get Simmons settled.
Green added Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, who came to Brooklyn in the same trade, had chilly relationships with Simmons in Philadelphia.
“Interesting dynamic of things went down; interesting dynamic of who went with him,” Green said. “I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to those guys yet, but I know they weren’t on the most cordial of terms when he was in Philly with Drum and Seth. So I wonder how that relationship is now.”