Nets star Ben Simmons opened up about both his mental and physical health in a sit-down interview with free agent shooting guard JJ Redick on an episode of Redick’s podcast, The Old Man and the Three, that aired Thursday morning. Simmons, who hasn’t spoken publicly since arriving in Brooklyn in the midseason megadeal between the Nets and Philadelphia 76ers that also included former league MVP James Harden, broke his silence on his back injury and surgery, his exit from Philadelphia, the playoff series loss against Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks and dealing with the ridicule that has come with not having a jump shot despite owning an otherwise complete basketball game.
Simmons also publicly denied a report suggesting he left a Nets team group chat after his teammates asked him whether or not he would play in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics last season.
“No I didn’t,” he said. “That’s what I hate about the internet is fu—ng people just make anything up and it just gets taken too far… There was no one even talking in the group chat when we got to the playoffs. So, no, I didn’t leave a group chat.”
He also said that this Nets’ roster is like the 76ers’ roster “on steroids.”
“I think this team is a great fit for what I do and what I bring to the game,” he said. I think it’s Philly on steroids kind of, in terms of what we had when you [Redick] were there and Marco [Belinelli] and Ersan [Ilyasova]. It’s exciting, knowing I’m playing with those guys and knowing their games and knowing I don’t have to guard Kyrie [Irving] and Kevin [Durant].
Simmons had dealt with lingering back issues during his playing days in Philadelphia, but while attempting to make a comeback for the Nets after his trade to Brooklyn, the back issue flared up once again.
“I was actually going up the stairs [when I hurt my back],” Simmons told Redick. “So initially I had some kind of soreness in my back when I was working out, then I went to go run up the stairs and my whole right side just dropped. And as soon as I went upstairs, I laid down and I could not move.”
Simmons received an epidural to alleviate the pain in his lower back and the shot allowed him to resume ramping up his conditioning. He ultimately never advanced to five-on-five workouts and had another back flare-up ahead of Game 4 against the Celtics.
Simmons underwent a microdiscectomy on the L4-5 disc in his lower back during the offseason.
“It’s tough,” he said. “The first few weeks I’m not doing anything, but I walked out of surgery.”
The biggest knock on Simmons’ game has been his inability to shoot perimeter jump shots. He is a perennial candidate for First Team All-Defense and is one of the NBA’s best playmakers and athletes at his size, but his reluctance to shoot jump shots is his Achilles heel.
Simmons, however, doesn’t believe he needs to shoot threes at a high clip because he creates open looks for his teammates.
From his season debut in 2017 through Feb. 2020, Simmons had scored 1,443 baskets and assisted on 782 of his teammates’ threes. Nobody in the NBA came even close to that mark — and now Simmons will play alongside vaunted snipers like Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Patty Mills, Royce O’Neale and, of course, both Irving and Durant.
“You’re hearing it [the narrative about my shooting]all the time from everybody, like fu—ng hell, get off my case,” Simmons said. “I do other things, too. I’m guarding the best players. I don’t think people respect that enough — what I bring to the court — because it’s a lot of s–t I’m bringing to the court and for me, I just wanna win. So people also don’t understand my goal is to purely win. I don’t go out there trying to have this many points. My goal is to win, so I’m trying to do whatever I can to help my team, but [the narrative around my shooting is] for sure frustrating, but that’s one of my weaknesses, so what, am I gonna get mad at people for saying it?”
Redick said he’d seen Simmons make threes in practice and in pickup games and asked if the narrative about his shooting got bigger than it should have been. Simmons said “for sure, 100 percent,” and said the narrative about his shooting started to weigh on him in games.
“They’re saying I can’t [shoot]. Should I not? I’m confused now,” he explained. “Like you don’t want me to shoot, but you want me to shoot? I don’t know. So it did f–-k with me a lot, but I found peace in a place where I was like ‘f–k it, it’s basketball.’ I’m great at the game, I need to go out there and show people what I can do and my talent.”
Simmons also suggested, though partially in jest, that we might see him shoot some threes in a Nets jersey.
“Yeah I need to,” he said with a laugh. “I need to just go out there and put some up. I’m shooting 20 threes again. Kevin’s wide-open? Nope.”
The Pinstripe Express
The Daily News sports editors handpick the week’s best Yankees stories from our award-winning columnists and beat writers. Delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.
Simmons gave his account of what happened when he decided not to dunk or lay the ball up in Game 7 against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals two seasons ago. Instead of scoring, he passed the ball to teammate Matisse Thybulle, who was further from the rim. The play ultimately did not lead to a basket and was used as the scapegoat for why Philadelphia lost that game.
“In the moment I just spun [off of then Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari] and I’m assuming Trae’s gonna come over quicker and I see Matisse. So I’m thinking he’s gonna get up there and flush it,” Simmons said. “Yeah, f–k it looks terrible, but when I look at it now, I’m like man, I should have just fu—ng punched that s–t, but it didn’t happen and I was OK with that. I can live with that. I can live with everyone trying to kill me over one play. Does everyone want to watch film with me? The whole arena? I can dissect everything if you guys want, but that’s not realistic.”
Simmons said that Hawks series compounded other issues he was having in his life and agreed — “for sure” — that both Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers threw him under the bus after that play. Rivers said he was uncertain whether or not he could win a championship with Simmons as his starting point guard and Embiid blamed the game on Simmons’ inability to score on that play.
“I’m already dealing with a lot just in life like a lot of people do, but it got to a point where after that series, I’m getting — from the people you’re supposed to get that support from or that comfort from — so it was a toll on me and mentally it killed me: no energy for anything,” he said. “Everyone goes through different struggles, some bigger than others, but everyone has their own battles and I think that was tough for me, just knowing I didn’t have that support from teammates.”
The 76ers traded Simmons at the February trade deadline, but he requested to be traded during the previous offseason. After his request he attempted to attend training camp for two days, but Rivers kicked him out of practice for failing to participate in team drills.
Simmons said that he spoke to Rivers before practice and told him he wasn’t ready to practice and asked him not to play him in any drills.
“He said, ‘Well, I’m gonna put you in anyway,’” Simmons said. “It’s one minute into practice, and he’s like, ‘Ben, get in’. Nobody’s doing that. You’re doing this on purpose. And that’s how I felt, too. It seemed like everyone’s trying to f–k with me now. I’m getting fined for not lifting weights but physically I’m one of the strongest guys on the team. Obviously I didn’t handle things the right way, but, also, the team didn’t either.”