Ben Simmons' health status was a black cloud over the Brooklyn Nets season in 2022-23. But after a summer rehabbing a back injury that forced him out at last year's All-Star break, the three-time All-Star finally has a clean bill of health, one he says will allow him to play without restrictions in 2023-24.

“I feel great. This is the best I've felt in a long time,” Simmons said at Media Day Monday. “I had a real opportunity this summer to really focus on myself, take my time and rehab properly to get to a place where I'm comfortable and physically able to compete at the highest level.”

“(My back) definitely wasn't healing during the season last year but I was doing what I could to get on the court and play. But taking that time, taking the summer to focus on my body and get into a place where I felt that strength come back and let that area heal has been great.”

After Brooklyn acquired Simmons for James Harden at the 2022 trade deadline, many thought he could be the missing piece to tie the team together alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. However, a back injury and mental health issues held him out, and Boston swept Brooklyn in the first round of the 2022 playoffs.

Simmons underwent a microdiscectomy on a bulging disc the following summer. He was still bothered by the injury while returning last season, often unable to initiate contact or elevate above the rim on dunks or layups. During that time, Durant and Irving re-engaged past trade requests and found new homes.

“There were times when I couldn't sit down properly, I couldn't get into cars and be comfortable,” Simmons said of his condition last year. “If I was sitting down too long I wasn't able to get up and be able to perform and do the things I needed to do. For me now the day-to-day things are easier. So I think that also takes a toll on your mental. If you're not able to compete and do the things you naturally can do, it's frustrating.

“But now every day is a lot easier. I'm feeling comfortable. I can get up, go to work and do my job… I'm grateful and happy to be in the place where I'm at now. To be out here and be able to be comfortable, be able to take hits and go to the rim and do Ben Simmons-type things.”

A study by the National Library of Medicine on NBA players who underwent the procedure found they typically return to their normal level of play in the second post-operative season. For Simmons, that means regaining the explosive athleticism that made him a force during his time with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said the Aussie has resembled his old self during 5-on-5 scrimmages the last few weeks:

“It's the most explosive I've seen him since I've been around him,” Vaughn said. “He's getting to the rim, getting there with force, doing it over and over and over again, which is great to see. Now you get into live competition and hopefully some of those things you learned two, three years ago, you're mind just kind of sets in and he's able to do that for us moving forward.”

After traveling to Miami to meet with Simmons several times this summer, Vaughn said last week that the second-year Net will play point guard this season. However, the coach emphasized that agreement is contingent on Simmons' ability to consistently attack opposing defenses.

Nets guard Cam Thomas, who shares an alma mater with Simmons (LSU), said the former number-one pick's regained athleticism has shown on the fastbreak during recent scrimmages:

“Honestly, he just looks more explosive,” Thomas said. “As far as getting the ball in transition, that's the main thing I've seen different from him. When he's in transition now, he goes. Last year he was a little tentative. I guess with his injuries he didn't want to tweak anything. But this year he's full go in transition.”

“And that's what we need from him. Defending and just getting the rebound and pushing because it really helps our team, really helps our break.”

Simmons is Brooklyn's highest-paid player at $78 million over the next two seasons. If healthy, he'll headline this year's roster alongside Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Nic Claxton and Spencer Dinwiddie. And while history has taught Brooklyn to temper expectations, the team knows what a healthy Simmons could do for them this season.

“I remember the way he impacted the game on both ends of the floor,” Vaughn said. “I remember doing scouting reports and he was one of the top problems you had to deal with on a nightly basis.”

“We have to get the ball to the paint, we have to create opportunities there. It's imperative that we get the ball downhill, and he's a big part of that… And then the defensive end also. We didn't rebound the ball well last year. We don't want to be in that deficit again this year, and he can help that.”

“We would love for him to get back to that All-Star level.”