Nets rallying around Ben Simmons can provide a blueprint

PHILADELPHIA — Whether it’s closure, payback or something else, Ben Simmons finally got it Thursday in Philadelphia. And now he can get on with his career in Brooklyn.

In Simmons’ return to the City of Brotherly Love, the hate started early, ran deep and never let up. But even if 76ers fans won’t ever forgive or forget how he left, now he’s finally put them in the rearview and his Nets stint squarely in focus.

“He looked good to me. He looked happy to be here,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “I think he was happy to get it out of the way.”

Manyed the still-sidelined Simmons — who has been open about his mental health issues — wouldn’t have the fortitude to join his new Nets teammates and sit on the visiting bench, taking the wrath of the spurned Sixers fans predict. But he did just that, taking their bill from the morning all the way through the end of the game.

And maybe he saw it wasn’t all that lethal after all.

While the Nets have more drama than a season of “The Bachelor,” it may not entirely go away. Maybe Thursday’s blowout win was a big step in learning to deal with it, for both them and Simmons.

“I don’t think it’s gonna go away, really, all the noise around our team,” Kyrie Irving said with a laugh. “But it makes for good fun. As we talked about, we just want to stay even keel with it. The noise is going to continue, but we just have that focus, just no fear. Just play free, and go out there and do your job and we’ll be right there for each other supporting. So it feels good when we do that.”

Nets
The Nets rallied around Ben Simmons as he returned to Philadelphia.
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The Nets were with Simmons, rallying around him.

First the 76ers turned him into a scapegoat for last year’s playoff ouster. Then, after his trade demand, a villain. Thursday they made him a rallying cry for the Nets, a motivator even from the bench.

“Most definitely,” Kevin Durant said. “We look at Ben as our brother, so we knew that this was a hostile environment and we knew he didn’t have an opportunity to play, so we wanted to come out there and have them focus on the court more so than just always focusing on him. So they focused on the court tonight, and it’s hard for you chant at Ben Simmons when you’re losing by that much.”

Simmons — who is not likely to do full five-on-five practice Saturday, according to a source — can take peace of mind in getting through the vitriol from the fans of his old team. Thursday’s Brooklyn blowout against the 76ers and James Harden — the man he was traded for a month ago Thursday — just made it sweeter.

Simmons had started the morning off getting accosted by 76ers fans outside the Nets’ team hotel, cursed at and mocked. One even rushed towards him and had to be stopped by team security. And from pregame warm-ups through much of the night, he heard chants of “F–k Ben Simmons!”

Ben Simmons is cascaded with boos as he walks onto the court.
Ben Simmons is cascaded with boos as he walks onto the court.
AP
76ers
76ers fans booed Ben Simmons all night.
Getty Images

Here’s the thing. He survived.

It was nowhere near the kind of vitriol that Kevin Durant endured in his return to Oklahoma City. No beers thrown at his head like Kyrie Irving had last year in Boston.

Just words, sticks and stones and all that.

“I think playing for Ben and this night means something to Ben — and not only Ben — [Andre Drummond]Seth [Curry] — when you get traded in this league it’s not easy to deal with,” Irving said. “We’ve tried to welcome them in with open arms. So when we played [the 76ers] we definitely felt like Ben was on our heart, you could see it.

“He was wearing it and we just wanted to go out there and play for him and play well. But again, it’s not an individual thing for us. We all felt it. We’re all there. We all deal. If you come at Ben, you come at us. You come at anyone else on our team, you come at all of us. And that’s the mentality.”

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