‘Grateful’ Simmons makes his debut with Nets

NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons made his long-awaited debut with his new team on Monday after almost a year and a half away from the game.

After pushing for a trade out of Philadelphia while citing mental health concerns and then dealing with offseason back surgery, Simmons said he felt “amazing” while scoring six points, dishing out five assists and grabbing four rebounds over 19 minutes in Monday’s 127-108 preseason loss to the 76ers.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

While Simmons showed some understandable rust at times, he seemed to be moving up and down the floor well after a 470-day break between games. Prior to Monday, Simmons last played in an NBA game in June 2021 when the Sixers lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Atlanta Hawks.

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

The Nets have plenty of issues to shore up defensively moving forward. However, players and coaches were excited by what they saw from Simmons on the offensive end — especially playing alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

“I was telling him at halftime, when you’re playing with some high-level players, despite what you heard, we’re going to make the game easy for you,” Irving said. “And he’s going to love playing with us. He’s going to love getting up and down the floor with us. But for him to be out there for his first day, and for us to experience it with him, is something that we can remember for the rest of the season as something that we got through. It’s day one, highly anticipated. Glad it went his way tonight.”

Simmons said playing against some of his old Sixers teammates “felt like a normal game, honestly.” Philadelphia center Joel Embiid, guard James Harden and forward P.J. Tucker sat out Monday’s game.

Nets coach Steve Nash knows the experience that Simmons, Durant and Irving are getting while playing together in the preseason is key.

“I was pleased overall,” Nash said. “I think it’s all so new. We got to go through this. Guys need time together. Ben’s playing with a totally different unit than he has in the past, different style. … It’s going to be ugly at times, but I thought as the half wore on you definitely started to see glimpses of the potential. The way the ball moved. The way they were hounding the basketball defensively. I thought Ben looked pretty good overall and grew into the game through the half.”

Durant echoed a similar sentiment. After almost a decade and a half in the league, he knows that it takes time for great players to learn each other’s respective games, but he is confident that Simmons will find his rhythm with the Nets fairly quickly. Like many within the Nets organization, Durant was just happy Simmons was back on the floor and producing Monday — like several other stars across the league who are returning from various injuries.

“Being away for a year, you get a lot of anxiety not playing,” Durant said. “I know I did. Just anxious to see how I’m playing, where I’m going to play, what my role is on the team. But as a fan of the game, Kawhi [Leonard] being back is great for basketball, Jamal Murray being back is great for basketball, all the guys that have been out injured and being able to play again, it’s a great feeling seeing them out there.”

Simmons seemed both relieved and noticeably happy after the game that he was finally able to play with his new Nets teammates. He believes better days are ahead for both himself and his new team.

“It was fun messing up because I know how good we can be,” Simmons said. “And seeing just different looks and opportunities there with Kevin and Ky and Joe [Harris]. Seeing where they want the ball and just how things are going to work and flow. But the only way you learn is to make mistakes so I had a few out there tonight and I can go back and watch film and say I know what I did wrong and how to fix that. So it’s all a learning process for me so it’s good.”

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