NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving is confident that “anything’s possible,” for new teammate Ben Simmons now that the talented swingman has “peace around him” in his basketball life. Irving, like coach Steve Nash, is confident that Simmons will be able to fit in quickly to the framework of the team.
“That level of talent, and IQ and motivation and drive — anything’s possible,” Irving said. “He has that ‘it’ inside of him so now we just have to slowly develop him where he knows that he can just go out there and be himself. We want him to be his highest potential of himself As a player, be able to accomplish things out on the floor that he wasn’t able to do the last few years. And just have some fun being at peace around him.
“Having a point guard 6-10, 6-11, I’m also a point guard, lead guard, whatever you want to call my position. It’s good to get off the ball and have him get up and down the floor. It’s going to take time obviously for health-wise, but we’re patient, so just wait for him to look like he’s in All-Star form again, which I know will happen soon.”
Simmons, 26, was acquired just before February’s trade deadline from the Philadelphia 76ers. He sat out the first half of last season, citing mental health, and was not able to play for the Nets after the deal was completed because of ongoing back issues, which resulted in offseason surgery. Now that he appears to be in a much better physical and mental place to start the 2022-23 season, the Nets believe he is going to have a big year.
Drawing from his own experience with things he has dealt with in his own mental health in the past, Irving is confident Simmons will be able to play at a high level again because his mind should be more at ease in Brooklyn.
“It means everything,” Irving said. “It means they come in with a peace of mind. And they just enjoy the game of basketball. It’s a profession for sure, I don’t want to knock that, it’s a seriousness about it, but building team camaraderie takes that ability to go through some uncomfortable moments and you got to be balanced mentally, spiritually, emotionally, be able to handle things like that. So I definitely have first-hand experience, I don’t want to make mental health a trend.
“In actuality, it’s one of the most important things that you need out here to be great in anything you do. We all are supportive, we all go through our own things, but we can understand and meet him where he’s at and just have him enjoy the game. Rather than make it feel like it’s something he’s forced to come to at all. So I feel good.”
The Nets are trying to do everything they can to make Simmons feel comfortable in his new surroundings. Nash doubled down on what he said after Wednesday’s practice, that he didn’t care if Simmons, who struggled to find consistency with his jump shot in Philadelphia, took jump shots with the Nets.
“I don’t need him to shoot it,” Nash said. “I’m not asking him to shoot it. If he’s open and wants to shoot it I’m not going to be yanking him out of the game, but that’s not what he does. For me, Ben is an incredible playmaker, he plays point guard, he’s incredible in transition, he’s a good screener … those are things that we need from Ben and that’s what he’s special at.”
Nash said Simmons has “no limitations” in training camp. While Nash still hasn’t decided who will play in Monday’s preseason opener against the Sixers, he is confident that Simmons won’t have a minutes limit to start the season as he works his way back after missing almost a year and a half.
“I think he looks great,” Nash said. “I think he’s playing well. He’s definitely on his way back to his best. I’m just not one of those people that thinks Ben has to shoot the ball. I do not. He is a special, special player without taking any jump shots. There’s other solutions for that. He has so many things he brings to the table and compliments our group that that’s just not important to me. It’s not. It’s not what he brings to the table for us.”
Nets guard, and fellow Australian, Patty Mills is also confident that Simmons is in a much better headspace than he has been in recently.
“I think with the amount of stuff an individual can go through, I don’t know if it will ever be clear, but I do know where his mindset is right now, is in a really good place,” Mills said. “He’s excited to be back on the floor and making an impact. Again, another presence on the floor that brings a different type of energy to the team. And he’s the type of player too that makes his teammates around him better.
“So that’s a good feeling to know as well. But I think from a mindset standpoint, moving on and getting excited about new things, his abilities, I think he [likes] where his head’s at.”