NBA: Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons preps for hostile return in 1st game in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA– Ben Simmons cocked his head in amusement at the suggestion that enough time had passed since his bitter departure from the 76ers that his homecoming in Philadelphia might be greeted with more affection than bitterness.

His look, which instantly became a meme, had the semblance of a gamer who knew better.

The details of Simmons’ long-standing split from the Sixers are too fresh for that. Like when former coach Brett Brown asked him to shoot just one three-pointer per game, or coach Doc Rivers simply asked Simmons to show up ahead of time and attend practice, Simmons never did.

Or when management and an entire fanbase who just wanted Simmons to embrace town, live up to his contract and the talent that made him worthy of the No. 1 pick-and-pursuit championship with Joel Embiid, no honest answer could get on why he wanted it from Philadelphia.

Simmons knows it won’t be forgotten any time soon.

“You guys are going to do titles or headlines or whatever, but I’m excited to go play,” Simmons said.

Like it or not, Simmons is in for a lot worse than a scornful scowl from abandoned Philly fans as he returns Tuesday night with the Brooklyn Nets to play the Sixers for the first time since a February trade.

The three-time All-Star watched from the bench as he recovered from a back injury while the Nets played in Philly in March. Simmons drew sneering cheers from the moment he stepped onto the pitch and was verbally abused for most of the game.

“I know what’s coming,” Simmons said with a laugh after Sunday’s win.

Just wait until he actually plays.

“One thing about Philly fans, they’re amazing,” Simmons said. “You’re die-hard Philly. All Philly, whatever it is. I respect that about the city. It’s a sports city.”

When Simmons sat out last season’s home game, fans mocked the absent guard. The most popular shape was a Mister Softee T-shirt with an ice cream swirl on Simmons’ head.

“It’s great for him,” said Nets coach Jacque Vaughn. “He’ll have his team-mates behind him, he’ll have a coach who believes in him and overall we’re looking forward to playing.”

It’s still almost unimaginable at times that the 76ers and Simmons couldn’t mend differences that arose from his refusal to take an open dunk in a Game 7 loss to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Rivers and Embiid offered passive criticism of Simmons, and the relationship disintegrated from there. Simmons had back problems and later said mental health issues played a role in his summer 2021 trade claim, leading to some contentious days at training camp. Simmons was sent home for good, filed a complaint after the Sixers said he broke his contract (this was later settled in a confidential agreement), and then was sent to Brooklyn in a trade for All-Star James Harden.

Simmons hasn’t been able to shake the drama in Brooklyn either – although there’s plenty to do in the borough thanks to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – and has only played 12 games this season. He’s on form, coming off a season-high 22 points against Memphis, his first 20-point game since playing for the 76ers in the 2021 playoffs.

“I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to incorporate the reps, so I’m catching up on my reps now,” Simmons said.

Simmons averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists in four seasons with Philadelphia, which pulled him out of LSU, where he only played one season. His ever-present headaches, like his refusal to shoot beyond 15 feet — he was a 5-of-34 career 3-point shooter with the 76ers — outweighed his otherwise gifted defensive and playmaking talents.

Simmons made a surprise return to the Sixers just before the start of last season, but was promptly kicked out of practice and given a one-game suspension. The punishment didn’t matter; The 2016 draft No. 1 never intended to play.

He faces a scrapping 76ers team playing without an injured Harden and Tyrese Maxey and now Embiid – his former All-Star partner and franchise cornerstone whose friendship has since dissolved.

“There’s a lot of history, but there’s really no history. It’s just a regular game,” Embiid said.

Things get loud and wild at the Wells Fargo Center. Simmons insisted he wasn’t “getting cranked” and vowed he’d come to Philly to play.

Even if he pretends to be interested in what all the fuss is about.

“Is something going on?” he said laughing.


AP basketball writer Brian Mahoney in New York contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. NBA: Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons preps for hostile return in 1st game in Philadelphia

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