NEW YORK — As the Brooklyn Nets wait for Ben Simmons to recover from a back issue that he is dealing with as he prepares to play in an NBA game again for the first time in nine months, veteran guard Patty Mills remains convinced that Simmons will be able to help the team as soon as he steps on the floor.
“He’s going to be a threat either way,” Mills said after Saturday’s practice. “On ball, off ball — whether he’s handling the ball, whether he’s off the ball as a screener, I think he’s such a threat that he’s going to draw a lot of attention. So I think given his IQ and the way he can pass the ball and handle the ball, that makes us better at his bare minimum.
“So, obviously, where he’s the biggest threat is in an open-court situation with people, especially shooters around him. But, like I said, a bare-minimum Ben Simmons makes this team a whole lot better as well. Looking forward to it.”
Simmons, who was acquired in a deal just before the trade deadline that sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers, was hopeful that he would be able to play Thursday against his old team, but that won’t happen now. Simmons still hasn’t been cleared for practice and has been dealing with back soreness for over a week.
Nets general manager Sean Marks said in an interview with YES Network on Thursday that he was hopeful that Simmons would be able to rejoin the group by the end of next week, but it remains to be seen when he’ll actually be cleared for practice — and how much time he’ll need from that point to feel comfortable playing in a game again.
Mills, who has said repeatedly that he wants to help Simmons get comfortable within the Nets’ new system, believes that Simmons is picking things up from his new teammates, despite the fact he hasn’t been able to practice yet.
“We’re doing a lot of talking,” Mills said. “A lot of conversations, meaning the group, a lot of film, a lot of walk-through stuff. So he’s there for all of it; he’s there for the entire practice. And then he’s doing his part with his shooting coach and physio and whatever that looks like. But as far as every team thing goes, he’s at everything.”
Mills said that Simmons is putting in work behind the scenes to make sure that he is feeling good whenever he is able to return. Both teammates and coaches continue to say that Simmons is in a good mental place over his first few weeks with the Nets.
“Obviously, he’s putting in a lot of hard work not only with his rehab with his back, but also finding his ways or how he can get better in the situation that he’s in at the moment,” Mills said. “So I think that the biggest thing has been able to give him some guidance and perspective, I guess, during the game to be honest and see how he can easily slide into this thing and then see where he can fit in and find his spots.
“So the game times have been really crucial, having him on the bench and just hearing his perspective as well and what he thinks.”
The Nets did get some good news after practice Saturday, as the team announced that head coach Steve Nash has cleared health and safety protocols and will coach Sunday’s game against the Boston Celtics. Nash missed the past three games while in protocols.