The Brooklyn Nets are embracing a youth movement this offseason. The team parted ways with Joe Harris, Patty Mills and Seth Curry, its three oldest players, and inserted a pair of young guards with eye-popping athleticism in Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV. Despite a disappointing 2021-22 campaign, Ben Simmons is part of that movement.
The 26-year-old has become an afterthought after playing 42 games over the last two seasons while dealing with a combination of injuries and mental health issues. Simmons was once heralded as of the league's most athletic players but looked like a shell of his old self last season, averaging 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. He was forced out by a knee injury during the All-Star break and later shut down due to a nerve impingement in his back.
However, Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn has been in contact with Simmons and is looking forward to coaching a healthy version of the three-time All-Star:
“We’ve had contact for sure. All of our guys have been locked in and really keeping us informed,” Vaughn said at the Summer League Friday. “I’m looking forward to getting a healthy Ben Simmons… I look forward to coaching him healthy and our entire group being able to start the year together and go through training camp together. Those things are important.”
Rumors of Simmons returning for the FIBA World Cup made headlines after Australia head coach Ben Goorjian said there was “a really good chance” the former number one pick would suit up in late August. However, the Nets and Simmons later informed Basketball Australia that Simmons would sit out to focus on his rehab process.
“Ben needs more time to focus on his rehab and he looks forward to being part of the Boomers in the future,” Basketball Australia said. “We wish Ben all the best in his recovery.”
When asked about the decision, Vaughn emphasized the need for players to be “in the right frame of mind” when stepping on the floor:
“I know Ben put out a statement. We definitely stand by the statement that was put out. Just the timing of everything,” he said. “We always wanna look forward to the athlete being in the right frame of mind, the right space to be on the floor.”
While Simmons will not appear in a game until preseason at the earliest, Vaughn indicated the Aussie has been progressing in his on-court workouts.
“He is on the court,” the coach said when asked if Simmons is playing five-on-five or doing contact drills. “I think he would be ok if I told him to use those terms. No setbacks. I talked to him a day, two days ago, maybe something around there. We’ll continue to see him as our whole group moves through the offseason.”
The 6-foot-10 guard/forward's NBA outlook is among the Nets' top question marks entering the 2023-24 season. Simmons has two years, $78 million remaining on his contract.