In the Nets’ growing frustration with Ben Simmons as the team tries to get out of the early slump

SACRAMENTO- That Brooklyn Networks were embarrassed on national television Tuesday night, fell to the kings of Sacramento 153-121 in a game so one-sided you had to see it to believe it.

But after all these weeks of questions all around Ben Simmons and his recent round of health issues, there was this silver lining: He wasn’t just playing, he was playing reasonably well. In 20 minutes of action off the bench, the much-maligned No. 1 pick of 2016 scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting — the most points he’s scored since June 14, 2021 — and added five rebounds and three assists added.

With Simmons’ unavailability already a major concern for the Nets – not to mention his lackluster game once he took the pitch – the timing of his return could not have been better. But the Nets are desperate to salvage their season amid the recent firing of coach Steve Nash and the Unsolved Kyrie Irving Controversy, skepticism about Simmons’ ultimate impact remains.

Frustration surrounding Simmons had been building within the organization over the past few weeks, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation. The coaching staff and players were concerned about his availability and level of play, with some questioning his passion for the game, these sources said. But even when he did play, Simmons’ struggles in his first nine games this season were also part of the Nets’ frustration.

Simmons returned from back surgery in May to play earlier this season but recently missed eight days to drain his left knee with fluid. After starting the season as a starting point guard tasked with playmaking and driving the pace, Simmons has been moved to the backup center spot in his last four appearances. It’s the first time he’s come off the bench in his seven seasons. He was a late scratch in Sunday’s defeat lakerswith the team citing pain in his left knee as the reason for his absence.

In conversation with the athlete On Tuesday, Simmons acknowledged the criticism he knows is coming his way and shared his view on the matter.

“You’re obviously not going to be happy if someone’s outside,” Simmons said the athlete. “But I’ve been dealing with the knee since the start of the season. It’s swollen. I had PRP (injections). I’ve had blood drawn a few times. So it’s not a made up thing, you know? It’s a real thing.

“I understand (the skepticism) but I think the only thing about me is that I’m a competitor. I want to win and play. So I’ll do what I can to get out of this.”

That stretch earlier in the season was just the latest setback in two brutal years for the 26-year-old. Of the back problems that left the former Philadelphia 76ers star vomiting from pain and was sidelined in the 2019-20 regular season to his Unfortunate ending in the second round of the playoff series against Atlanta exposing him to citation last season his sanity Before the Sixers sold him to Brooklyn, Simmons’ road had been rocky for quite some time. He then missed the playoffs due to a back problem stemming from a herniated disc. And this familiar subject — his peers question his career aspirations — is one he knows he can’t control.

“There’s only so much I can really do (about perception),” Simmons said. “You can’t make people believe you know? They weren’t there when I was on the floor and couldn’t walk (because of his back). They weren’t there when I was taken to the hospital in the ambulance (after a Match over on February 22, 2020 Milwaukee). People weren’t there, so they don’t know. That was the first episode I had against Milwaukee. That was the initial trigger for it…just before COVID, the start of my back problems.

“But that’s part of my journey. There were times when I couldn’t walk. I had a dead foot. Could not sleep. I had a lot going on physically where it was hard. But there’s only so much I can say for someone to believe, you know?

When it comes to this latest physical challenge, Simmons said his ailing left knee needs near-constant care, while his back has been significantly improved.

“I’m completely overwhelmed with treatment, with everything I have to do to stay out there,” Simmons continued. “I just spend more time on the table, honestly, more downtime (where) I literally just put my leg up, icing on whatever I have to do — sleep.

“Yes (the knee is a bigger problem than the back), which is good. And that’s a league thing. You start having some (angst) about something and then you think about your ankle or your leg or whatever it is. That will happen, but getting it under control is the most important thing for me.”

The Nets, meanwhile, desperately need Simmons to regain his All-Star form. Especially given the chaos that has enshrouded their team outside of their situation.

From head coach Nash’s departure on November 1 to Irving’s indefinite suspension, they’ve weathered their share of the turmoil this season. But in the midst of this pivotal period, with the Nets winning six out of 10 games under new head coach Jacque Vaughn, they’re looking for consistency and winning rotations. super star Kevin Durant plays at his usual high level, but Irving remains unreachable and players like e.g Yuta Watanabe, Seth Curry and JoeHarris have been in and out of the lineup at times due to nagging ailments.

The level of desperation towards Simmons bubbled to the surface on October 29 when the Nets held a players-only meeting following a loss to the Nets pacemaker at the Barclays Center. Sources with direct knowledge of the meeting but who were granted anonymity so they could speak freely say that at that meeting Markieff Morris – a veteran leader on those nets – spoke to all of his teammates about how they need Simmons to be successful and how he needs to react when dealing with adversity on the pitch. These sources all described a meeting where Simmons appeared to take Morris’s words in stride and was responsive and perceptive throughout.

“We had a conversation, which of course I won’t talk about. It was honest,” Simmons told reporters after that meeting.

Simmons missed the next two Nets games due to the knee problem and returned to a bank role in the Nets’ loss outsider in Dallas on November 7th.

tell sources the athlete that team officials and teammates were in regular contact with Simmons to make him comfortable.

The three-time All-Star is posting career lows across the board as he returns to action after not playing at all last season. Simmons has averaged 5.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 27.3 minutes a night in nine games so far. He came off the bench in his last three games when Vaughn left with the greatly improved Nick Claxton as the launch center and Simmons as Claxton’s backup. Claxton is having a breakout season, averaging 11.9 points and 9.1 rebounds.

Still, this season Simmons has displayed brilliance on the floor and the all-around attributes that have made him a two-way star throughout his career.

“It’s the consistency,” Vaughn said ahead of Tuesday’s game when asked about his expectations for Simmons. “Trying to stabilize that group has been the challenge overall, not just the off-court things but also that we have people in some games, off some games – not (playing) back-to-back. That’s why we try not to use excuses. This is us. I will coach this group. Whoever is available that day, we will play against.

“So he can be considered the Five. He can be seen (a player that is) snagging the rebound and hitting it, and he’s the one-oblique-five. And so we tried to surround him with smalls where he can dribble and pick up the pace and have shooters around him. It was all based on the space part and we had to maximize our space since Kevin was out there on the floor. And I think as we continue to grow together as a group, that will evolve. And Ben will continue to evolve and you will see more and better of him.”

The Nets have $72 million of their payroll from the lineup with Irving and Simmons, which presents a tall order for a sustained win for this list of scrappy, hard-nosed players, including the emergence of Royce O’Neale and Edmond Sumner. Even with Simmons’ step forward, facing loss kings reminded her of so much.

(Top Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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