Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons is coming off a lost 2021-22 season in which he sat out because of a combination of mental health struggles and back injuries. But it appears he's prepared to bounce back this year.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said on Monday's episode of First Take that he spoke directly to Simmons recently and liked what he heard.
"He's ready to go," Smith declared. "He swears he's ready to go."
While still a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, Simmons cited a need to address his mental health as the reason he took time away from the team at the start of the season.
After being part of a trade that sent James Harden to Philadelphia, Simmons continued to sit out because of mental health, and he later aggravated a back injury while ramping up his conditioning.
Simmons received an epidural shot midway through the season to relieve pain from a herniated disk, but he never made it in a game. After the Nets were swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Boston Celtics, Simmons underwent successful microdiscectomy surgery in early May and was expected to need 3-4 months of recovery time.
A healthy Simmons is crucial for the Nets in a time of uncertainty surrounding the team.
Star forward Kevin Durant requested a trade in June and reportedly reiterated that request last week in a meeting with team governor Joe Tsai. The Athletic's Shams Charania reported that Durant gave Tsai an ultimatum to choose between him and the duo of head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks.
If Simmons is able to return to form, he could make Brooklyn a legitimate title contender on paper. The three-time All-Star should fit nicely alongside point guard Kyrie Irving, who should be motivated to prove himself while playing on a one-year option. The Nets used free agency to add defense and three-point shooting around them, so they should fare better in the competitive Eastern Conference this season.
Perhaps Durant could be enticed at the prospect of playing alongside a healthy Simmons and rescind his trade request in hopes of vying for an NBA title.