Nets expect Ben Simmons to be full participant at training camp

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 26, 2023

When the Brooklyn Nets open training camp next week, Ben Simmons is expected to be a full participant.

That was the message from Nets coach Jacque Vaughn and general manager Sean Marks to reporters Tuesday morning in Brooklyn, where they said Simmons is fully participating in 5-on-5 workouts without any restrictions, and should be ready to go when the first practice of training camp gets underway in a week.

"Pretty simple that way which is good for me to say, and I think that fits into an exciting time for me to have this group together," Vaughn said. "No restrictions at the beginning of the year -- get to form an identity together, get to form some relationships at the beginning of the year, a style of play, so really looking forward to the challenge and getting to training camp because of that."

It's been a rocky couple of seasons for Simmons, who missed the entire 2021-22 season after requesting a trade away from the Philadelphia 76ers and then, after arriving in Brooklyn in the 76ers' blockbuster deal for James Harden in February 2022, having back problems that prevented him from returning to the court.

Simmons eventually did get back on the court last season, but only managed to play 42 games before another round of back issues, and never looked like the former All-Star and All-NBA player he was with the 76ers. But he recently told Andscape's Marc J. Spears that he was feeling great and excited for the new season.

Vaughn also reiterated something Simmons said -- that the relationship between the two of them currently is in a much better place than it was at points last season, because everyone now understands what Simmons was unable to physically do at the time, and what he is now capable of doing as he gets back to normal from a health standpoint.

"I think at that time I was at a place where as a coach I'm always gonna have a standard, and that standard is of what I expect guys on the team to do, how we want them to play and ask them to do things for the sake of the team," Vaughn said. "I think Ben's and I's relationship is in such a good place right now because we've been able to talk through that moment of our lives where I expected him to do things that I've come to understand that physically he wasn't able to do.

"I think at that time, you kept hearing me talk about force, and those things and how I wanted him to play. And so now, a revelation where I've seen the work he's put in, where he was at, some of those things have been revealed to me. I think that's why our relationship is at a really good place right now, but the things I'm going to ask him to do going forward, I think he can physically do now. So it does put us in a position where I can use multiple lineups, put different people around him so we can have success on both ends of the floor."

Vaughn wants to use multiple lineups around Simmons, one of the NBA's most complicated players to build around even at his peak because of his combination of impressive physical gifts as one of the league's best passers and defenders at 6-foot-10 while also being a non-threat as a shooter. But Simmons has made it clear he believes he is, and should be playing, as a point guard.

When asked about that on Tuesday, Vaughn agreed with that assessment, albeit to a point.

"I would use the word 'agreement' more so than 'commitment,'" Vaughn said, when asked if it had been communicated to Simmons that he will be playing point guard this season. "The agreement is if he's playing at a consistent and high level, then I think our pictures look exactly the same. I think you can kind of put it in that category."

Marks, meanwhile, is overseeing an organization that looks far different this year than at this time a year ago, when both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were still the foundation upon which the franchise was being built. But as the Nets move into this next phase, Marks said owner Joe Tsai has put "no restrictions" on how the team reinvents itself moving forward.

"Joe Tsai, myself and [Vaughn] have talked openly about how this team will look in the upcoming years and when's the right time to go back in," Marks said. "Whether it's facilitating another deal, whether it's acquiring more players, whether it's seeing what these young guys on our team right now can develop, and that's an exciting piece too that we're forgetting to mention.

"We're certainly not in any hurry, but at the end of the day, we're going to do our due diligence like we always have over the course of the last six years."