Kyrie Irving Defends Ben Simmons amid Backlash: 'He's a Big Boy, He Can Handle It'

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 27, 2022

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 26: Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets and Ben Simmons #10 of the Brooklyn Nets smile during the game against the Miami Heat on March 26, 2022 at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving said teammate Ben Simmons is ready to handle the pressure-packed environment of playing for a championship contender in New York City.

The seven-time All-Star explained he's confident coach Kevin Boyle, who worked with Irving at The Patrick School in New Jersey and Simmons at Montverde Academy in Florida, has helped them understand what it takes to chase titles.

"He's a big boy, he can handle it. He doesn't shy away from the moment, and I like that," Irving told reporters Monday about Simmons. "I've seen it since he was in high school. We've had a connection playing for the same high school coach with Kevin Boyle. So we know what it's like to be yelled [at], get mother-effed all the time, the championships, being held accountable to the higher level. And that's the best environment to be in."

No team in the Eastern Conference heads toward the new campaign with more questions than the Nets after a drama-filled offseason that included a Kevin Durant trade request and rumors of a potential Irving deal.

In the end, no blockbuster moves were made as Brooklyn kept its core in place, but whether the roster can mesh together to emerge as a top-tier title threat remains a mystery.

The Nets certainly have enough talent to contend, especially if Simmons can quickly regain his form after sitting out the entire 2021-22 campaign.

He didn't play for the Philadelphia 76ers to open last season to focus on his mental health. Simmons then suffered a back injury after his trade to Brooklyn, which required surgery in early May.

Simmons confirmed Monday that he expects to receive clearance to play within the Nets' first few games.

"Physically, I feel great," he said. "That's the goal, that's the plan. ... Ready to go."

Along with splitting ball-handling responsibilities with Irving, he's also projected to provide a major boost to Brooklyn defensively. He was a two-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection during his time in Philly.

When you combine the star power of Durant, Irving and Simmons with a complementary group that includes Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Patty Mills, Nic Claxton, Royce O'Neale, T.J. Warren and Cam Thomas, there are obvious reasons for optimism.

"I've put myself in position. I've been working on myself this past year to get back on the floor and play at a high level," Simmons said. "I deserve to take this opportunity to get back on the court, so I'm excited to team up with these guys, these coaches."

The Nets' season, which possesses definite boom-or-bust potential, will tip off Oct. 19 when they host the New Orleans Pelicans at Barclays Center.