NEW YORK (AP) — The final days of a frustrating Brooklyn Nets season ended not with Ben Simmons on the floor with his teammates, but on his home floor, pain from a back injury shooting through his lower body.
The Nets would go on to get swept by the Boston Celtics, with Simmons having back surgery shortly after. While Simmons rehabbed over the summer, Kevin Durant demanded a trade — unless coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks were fired.
Nash wasn’t fired, not even bothered.
“Knowing Kevin as well as I do, it didn’t really bother me as much as everyone would have thought,” Nash said. “That’s part of being a competitor, that it didn’t surprise me too much and it didn’t worry me too much. It was just something I thought we’d deal with in time and we did, and here we are and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Nets opened training camp on Tuesday with Simmons finally on the floor with his teammates, wearing a new number. But the book was not yet closed on 2021-22, not with Nash having to revisit the tumultuous summer first.
He and Durant have had a long relationship: Nash was a consultant with Golden State during Durant’s tenure with the team. When the Hall of Fame point guard was hired to coach the Nets in 2020, despite his lack of experience, it was assumed the superstar player weighed in.
So it was a shock when reports surfaced that Durant wanted him out, in addition to Nash.
“You know, I never thought it was 100%. There’s a lot of things that aren’t black and white like that,” Nash said. “So there are a lot of factors, a lot of things behind the scenes, a lot of things that are reported are not accurate. A lot of things that are reported aren’t 100% accurate, so you get fragmented pieces of truth, things that are completely untrue.”
Nash said he knew he would talk to Durant at some point, and they did meet in August, along with Marks and owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, where they decided to continue together. Nash did not elaborate on what was said to bring Durant back on board.
“But it was an opportunity for us to clear the air and communicate and it was pretty simple,” Nash said. “It didn’t take long and I got to the bottom and decided to move on.”
Durant pointed to how poorly the Nets played while sidelined with a knee injury in January and February as one of the reasons for his frustration, saying the team was not respected by its opponents. Newcomer Markieff Morris, who played with Miami last season, confirmed that on Tuesday.
“I agree with what he said. It was soft,” Morris said. “Point blank. When we played against them, they were soft. Go right into their chest. That’s what we did.”
Having Simmons will help. He was a first-team all-defensive selection in his final two seasons in Philadelphia, with the size and strength to guard all five positions.
“He’s strong as hell,” Morris said.
Simmons went to training camp last year after deciding he would no longer play in Philadelphia for mental health reasons. The 76ers eventually sent him to Brooklyn in February in a deal headlined by James Harden, but the 2016 No. 1 draft pick’s back problems flared soon after his arrival.
It turned out Simmons had a herniated disc and had a procedure to remove a portion of it during the offseason.
“I don’t think people really realized where I was,” Simmons said. “That day I had to play game 4, I woke up on the floor. I couldn’t move, I could barely walk.”
He exercises to manage back pain and also said he takes daily steps to improve his mental health.
“It’s just working on yourself and I feel like everybody has dark days, but when you’re able to deal with it and you’re able to work toward a place where you need to be, that’s where I’m at,” Simmons said.
Most importantly for the Nets, he’s finally out there next to Durant. No one could be sure that would happen this summer, though Nash never believed Durant had closed the door.
“It was never that big of a deal to me,” Nash said. “I’ve always thought we have our moment, we talk it out and we pick a lesson and we’re lucky to be all in the gym and working again.”