It’s only preseason. Four games that will be erased in the win-loss column when the regular season begins in less than two weeks. But for the Brooklyn Nets, every game has significant meaning.
Monday night’s preseason opener against the Philadelphia 76ers at home at Barclays Center featured a lineup of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, and Steve Nash as the head coach. A few months ago this was an unlikely scenario. Durant made a request of team owner Joe Tsai early this summer that he either fire Nash and general manager Sean Marks or trade him. When Tsai said he was not going to get rid of Nash and Marks, Durant, maybe the best player in the world, demanded to be traded.
Irving’s attempt at getting a long-term deal from the Nets fell short and there was a possibility he would be traded. Irving ultimately accepted the $36.5 million one-year player option for this season remaining on his original Nets deal signed in 2019.
Simmons, traded to the Nets from the Philadelphia 76ers last February for James Harden, hadn’t played in a meaningful NBA game since June of 2021 when the 76ers were upset in the playoffs by the Atlanta Hawks and Simmons became the scapegoat for his team’s disappointing finish to the season.
Now, with all of the major parts back, it may not look like it at any time during the Nets’ second preseason game tonight versus the Miami Heat in Brooklyn, but it was a tumultuous 2021-22 season for the Nets that carried over deep into this summer.
“We’re fine,” said Nash regarding his relationship with Durant after the Nets’ first official practice of the season last week. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed.”
Nash, entering in his third season as the Nets’ head coach, added they resolved the problems that could have broken up the team. “Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens.”
The Nets have had issues since last season, which led to Harden asking to be traded. They ended it with a 44-38 record, the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and getting swept by the Boston Celtics 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs. Now they are moving forward with a clean slate.
“You don’t start the year thinking you’re going to go through the same amount of adversity as we have the last two years,” said Nash.
“Ben’s been doing really well. He’s put in the time this summer, and he’s continually getting better every week, so it looks to me like he’s pretty close to the player we envisioned and he’s going to make a big impact for us.”
Against Philadelphia on Monday night, Simmons, a 6-11 point-forward, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, took the court after being sidelined for the entire 2021-2022 season due to a back injury and mental health concerns. He had 6 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds playing multiple positions in 19 minutes of play.
The 26-year-old, three-time NBA All-Star was born and raised in Australia but has New York hoops roots as his father, Dave Simmons, is from the Bronx and played professionally in Australia. The younger Simmons described his long-awaited Nets debut as “amazing.”
Simmons accepts that he will need some time before he’s 100%, but right now getting reacclimated is the priority.
“I’m grateful just to be able to step on an NBA floor again,” Simmons expressed after the Nets’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers. “I had a lot of fun out there.”