Ben Simmons makes Brooklyn Nets debut

NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons made his long-awaited debut with his new team Monday after being nearly a year and a half away from the game.

After pushing for a trade from Philadelphia citing mental health concerns and then dealing with offseason back surgery, Simmons said he felt “amazing” while scoring six points, making five assists and in 19 minutes at the 127-108 loss in the preseason four rebounds scored to the 76ers.

“I’m grateful to be able to step foot on this ground,” Simmons said. “Step back onto NBA soil. I had a lot of fun out there.”

While Simmons showed some understandable rust at times, he appeared to be pacing well after a 470-day hiatus between games. Prior to Monday, Simmons last played in an NBA game in June 2021 when the Sixers lost to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

“That’s the only thing I thought I’d get nervous about,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

The Nets are struggling a lot to support themselves defensively forward. However, players and coaches were delighted with what they saw of Simmons on offense – particularly working with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

“I told him at half-time, despite what you’ve heard, if you play with some quality players, we’re going to make the game easy for you,” Irving said. “And he will love playing with us. He will love pacing with us. But for him to be out there on his first day and experiencing it with him is something that we can remember for the rest of the season as something that we got through. It’s day one, eagerly awaited. I’m glad it went its way tonight.

Simmons said playing some of his old Sixers teammates “honestly felt like a normal game.” Philadelphia center Joel Embiid, guard James Harden and forward PJ Tucker sat out Monday.

Nets coach Steve Nash knows the experience Simmons, Durant and Irving gain while playing together preseason is key.

“I was happy overall,” said Nash. “I think it’s all so new. We have to get through this. Boys need time together. Ben plays with a completely different unit than in the past, a different style. … It gets ugly at times, but I thought as half-time progressed you definitely started to see the potential. The way the ball moved. The way they pursued basketball defensively. I thought Ben looked pretty good overall and grew into the game at halftime.

Durant echoed a similar sentiment. After nearly a decade and a half in the league, he knows it takes time for great players to learn each other’s ways of playing, but he’s confident Simmons will find his rhythm with the Nets fairly quickly. Like many others within the Nets organization, Durant was just glad Simmons was back on the floor producing on Monday – along with several other stars in the league who have returned from various injuries.

“When you’re gone a year, there’s a lot of anxiety about not playing,” Durant said. “I know I did it. I’m just curious how I’m going to play, where I’m going to play, what my role is on the team. But as a fan of the game, Kawhi [Leonard] Being back is great for basketball, Jamal Murray being back is great for basketball, all the guys that were injured and can play again, it’s a great feeling to see them out there.

Simmons looked relieved after the game and clearly happy to finally be able to play with his new Nets teammates. He believes better days lie ahead for both himself and his new team.

“It was fun screwing it up because I know how good we can be,” Simmons said. “And just seeing different looks and possibilities there with Kevin, Ky and Joe [Harris]. To see where they want the ball and how things are going to work and flow. But the only way you learn is by making mistakes, so I had a few out there tonight and I can go back and watch movies and say I know what I did wrong and how to fix it. So it’s all a learning curve for me, so it’s good.” Ben Simmons makes Brooklyn Nets debut

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