Nets’ Ben Simmons dishes on Joel Embiid, air balls, KD and more

Ben Simmons looks and sounds like he’s in a very good place with the Brooklyn Nets.

Sitting on the cushioned-court benches at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee during Wednesday’s shootout, after nearly a year and a half away from the NBA floor, the 26-year-old says he’s embracing his new role alongside well-known superstars. Kevin Durant And the Keri Irving.

The Nets are counting on it – and he’s supported the All-Star three times as he tackles his mental health after a turbulent exit from the Philadelphia 76ers and out-of-season back surgery.

After Wednesday’s pre-season win against the Bucks – a game in which Simmons contributed seven points, eight rebounds and 10 assists – Irving couldn’t hide his excitement about the progress he continues to see from his teammate and how significant Simmons’ health impact is. It will be on the list.

“It’s positive news,” Irving told ESPN after the win. “Getting positive news [Simmons] Be there, just play his game. And we don’t want him to think too much other than just play with a no fear mindset and get on top of people’s chest this year.”

As Simmons prepares for his comeback season, he sat down with ESPN to discuss how he’s feeling mentally and physically, his upcoming return to Philadelphia in November and what it would mean to help bring the Nets back to the top after so much time away from the game.

[Editor’s note: Answers have been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.]

How would you put into words how much did you miss the match?

Simmons: You know, the first match you went back in and played against the Sixers? The feeling of being on the field was so surreal that I felt like that was what I was missing, from the perspective of my life. Being on this floor… It was like, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be. This is where I feel comfortable – on the field. So it’s a blessing to be back here and move on and play against the best players in the world.’

How much do you look forward to being here again and reminding people of how great you are?

Simmons: I can not wait. But this is my third match and I didn’t get injured until 30 minutes [of playing time] Until now. I’ve gotten a few reps to play basketball last year so it’s going to take time, but I’m excited to do it because I know what I can do. It is patience. She does the little things, works every day, and gets back there.

On a media day, you said that you feel confident that not only are you in good shape mentally, but that you will be there all year long. How would you describe the work you are doing to get to this place?

Simmons: It took a lot of work. But that part of my life, the daily routine now, is working on myself, staying in that place. Everyone has tough times and things like that, but just admit what you know about yourself and what puts you in those places, and then how do you get out of it.

What do you do when people are like, “Ben can’t shoot, or Ben won’t go to class?”

Simmons: They will say it regardless. Even if a bullet hits, what would they say? “I still can’t.” F-, I can’t make everyone happy, you know? …that’s like saying “could” Giannis [Antetokounmpo] shoot? can he?

Not at first. but now [Giannis’ shot is] better.

Simmons: Yes, better. But what is it? Is he not taking as many shots as people want me to? Don’t you hit every shot? Fans will always say something. And that’s probably the thing they’re like, “Yo, I can get his head around by doing this because I know that’s always been something people talked about.” but at the same time [people say]”Ben can make great performances,” so…

How do you block out all the noise that seems to find you?

Simmons: You find me all the time. And it doesn’t stop. Sometimes I get tired of it, but then I say, “Well, I’m Ben Simmons,” you know? Even that day there was a clip of me running a ball in the park. Meanwhile, like 10 men took multiple shots. So it’s like people are going to find one clip and try to make it all – like Ben can’t do [this or that]. Do you think I’m just an air ball in every shot? this is not true. But you must have rough skin and I realize that, but I can’t take everything personally. It’s social media.

Why do you think there is so much anger towards you?

Simmons: Because people know what I can do and what I can do. I think that’s what it is. As if I was someone who is incapable of doing certain things, I don’t think people would be on my ass as much. And I don’t mind that because it kind of motivates me in a way. Obviously sometimes there’s just too much for anyone to deal with, but I look at it as a bit of a disrespect in a way. Because if it wasn’t, there would be no upside to doing something good.

If you go out and play a great game, you can’t say anything, you know? That’s why it’s great to be on a team [Durant and Irving] Because they’ve been through different things in their career, where they can sort of relate.

Up until this point – I had never been in a plaza where the whole place was chanting “F—Ben Simmons!” [March 10 at 76ers]. What was it like?

Simmons: That’s when I didn’t play, right? when you get hurt. I don’t really know how I felt, because I don’t take that personally.

why not?

Simmons: Because I don’t know them. They don’t know me. They know the basketball side of me, but that’s not who I am as a person. And that’s the competitive nature of being in a hostile place like Philadelphia, you know? I got recruited there, and it ended in a way that not everyone was happy about, but that’s basketball, isn’t it? She is Philly. (chuckles) Like I don’t know if this is happening in Indiana or anything like that. This is Philly. This Philly is for you.

Are you looking forward to this game [against the 76ers on Nov. 22]?

Simmons: F—I can’t wait to go there, yeah. But for me, it’s all an experience and a learning situation. For me, I am able to learn something I have not experienced before. I was never traded and played against a team I was traded from. Kev, Ky, has had a lot of guys, but I’ve never had this situation – you have to go through it. Ky is back in Boston, and he’s not playing well, but he’s a lot. We are human too. We want to go out and prove everyone wrong.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Philadelphia. Do you think there is a point at which this relationship will end itself?

Simmons: Who do you know? I cannot predict the future. I would never have told myself that this could have gone like this early in my career. Who knows if I’ll be back in four or five years? I don’t know. The situation may be completely different, but at the moment I do not want to make up my mind and say that nothing can be changed.

While we’re on the topic – have you talked to Joel [Embiid] Until now?

Simmons: I don’t talk to Joe. We never talked.

You had a lot of success while you were there. How would you describe this relationship now?

Simmons: I don’t think there was really a relationship. Like in terms of friendship? You can try really hard to try to be close to someone, be friends with them, whatever it is, but everyone is different, so for me, that’s never personal. I have no anger or hatred towards him. He is who he is and I am what I am. We have our personal lives. And the business is basketball, so at that moment, my goal is to win and I got to win with Joe. He’s a great player, but we didn’t get it done.

Do you feel that the nets have kissed you and that they are standing behind you?

Simmons: Absolutely. I’ve had the support of all these guys, the technical staff, the organization, so it’s up to me to go out there to do my job now and get up and running. …it feels like home. It’s normal for me to be here and to come to work.

did you talk to [Durant and Irving] Specifically about dealing with the criticism that comes your way?

Simmons: Kie and I were literally talking about it before rehearsing. It’s like, “Why is everyone on our heads?” F-, we are interesting people, I think. Some guys you won’t talk to because you just don’t care.

What does it mean to you to help this Nets win the title?

Simmons: It will mean everything. For me, that would be a dream come true. In a situation like this, being in Brooklyn with these guys and this city, it would be unbelievable. But we still have a long way to go, but I think this team can do special things.

Would you say you’re in the best place you’ve been in a while?

Simmons: surely. I think so. you know what? I know that.

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