Ben Simmons was a topic at the Nets players-only meeting

Portland, OR. – Since Ben Simmons arrived in Brooklyn – on account of three-time NBA champion James Harden – he has been playing poorly or not at all.

His struggles — first to get on the court, then to stay, or succeed in it — have been a blatant concern for the Nets since they acquired him last season. And they still are, with some in the organization privately grumbling more about his absences and poor performances in the past weeks than they did upon his arrival.

The hope was that not playing due to mental health issues and a bad back (essentially having a redshirt year) would help Simmons get back into form. But after surgery for a herniated disc, he still missed games minus his explosiveness, the 26-year-old All-Star was landed three times to come off the bench.

And he blames the Nets, who will end their road trip against the Trail Blazers on Thursday after back-to-back losses, for their poor start. They held a players-only reunion on October 29 after losing at home to Indiana. Among the many topics discussed and concerns aired was Simmons.

Ben Simmons
AP

“It was honest. We had a conversation that I’m obviously not going to talk about, but it was honest,” Simmons said at the time. “That’s what winning teams do, holding each other accountable. Be open, talk to your teammates and respect that.”

The Athletic reported that Markiv Morris has spoken out, saying the Nets need Simmons to succeed and that he has to respond when he deals with adversity on the field. The report also claimed that Simmons appeared to take the criticism in stride, and was responsive and attentive throughout.

“I don’t want to get into any locker room discussions. We keep that between us,” Kevin Durant said of the report.

At the time, Morris said, “I’m not just talking about player meetings. I don’t even know why you guys know that. This is our thing. This is our thing.” On Wednesday, he flatly denied the story in The Athletic.

“Who is the source? You all should relax with these false stories man!” Morris tweeted. “Let me and my friends be cordoned off!”

Determining who spoke in the meeting and what exactly they said may be a small concern. The overall problem is Simmons, both because of his poor play (averaging 5.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 26.6 minutes, all career lows) and so concerns about his passion dogged him in Philadelphia.

Simmons was playing through the pain. His back had nerve damage and it was estimated it would take 18 months to recover. It caused swelling in the knee that had already cost him five games, drained and, he told The Athletic, required PRP injections.

And none of that considers himself psychological.

Simmons, who has visited a therapist in the past, is in the third season of a five-year, $177 million deal. Durant has already asked for a trade once and Kyrie Irving will be a free agent, so Simmons can last in Brooklyn, so getting him and keeping him in the right void is crucial.

“The most important part of it is that the group still has faith in him — which we have — and then we put him in positions to succeed,” said coach Jack Vaughn, who moved Simmons from starting point to center support. “Defensively, do what you do. And that starts with him playing hard. … But our constant conversations to try and make him feel comfortable as a basketball player, that’s my challenge.”

Ironically, in Tuesday’s humiliation at 153-121 in Sacramento, Simmons had a promising first-distance game of the season. His 11 points were the most he’s scored since June 14, 2021. He shot 5-of-7 – threw lobes – grabbed five boards and dished out three assists.

“I mean, it’s the stuff we’d expect from him, nothing surprising,” Durant said, shrugging. “If you’re out there and playing, I assume you’re fine physically. He did some good driving [Tuesday]But that’s what we expect from him.”

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