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Ben Simmons Makes Long-Awaited Nets Debut in Preseason Game vs. 76ers

After missing all of the 2021-22 season due to physical and mental health concerns, Ben Simmons finally returned to action Monday night at Barclays Center.

The three-time All-Star joined Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the lineup for the first time as the Nets opened the preseason against none other than Simmons’s former team, the 76ers. The versatile forward recorded six points, five assists, four rebounds and two turnovers in 19 minutes as the Sixers topped the Nets, 127–108. 

The matchup marked Simmons’s first since June 20, 2021 when the Sixers took on the Hawks in an infamous Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals. When asked about what it felt like to finally make his return, Simmons said it felt “amazing” to have the opportunity to play in his first game in 470 days.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor, to step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there,” Simmons told reporters.

For Simmons, Monday’s game officially ushered in the next phase of his young career after he landed in Brooklyn in a blockbuster trade for James Harden in February. When fans last saw him on the floor, Simmons faced ridicule for passing up an open dunk against the Hawks. The lowlight followed the 26-year-old for the next year-plus as he worked to improve his mental health, navigated a rocky end to his time in Philadelphia and dealt with a lingering back injury upon joining the Nets.

Ironically, the 26-year-old’s first points as a Net came on a dunk off an Irving assist, adding a bit of poetic justice to his first game against the team he spent his first five seasons with. But, while most people viewed Monday as a chance for him to make a statement against his old team, Simmons told reporters the matchup was nothing more than an exhibition.

“It felt like a normal game, honestly,” Simmons said, per Chris Milholen of Nets Daily. “First preseason game. First game out there in a while. Honestly, it wasn’t even on my mind. It wasn’t even a thought. Obviously, there’s history but it’s basketball so I’m doing what I love.”

While it’s possible the absences of Joel Embiid and James Harden played a role, Simmons’s downplaying of the moment indicates he’s ready to move from the past and embrace the future.

He suggested as much when discussing the capabilities of the Nets offense and his role alongside Durant and Irving. Simmons will have a chance to continue to build upon his return for the rest of the preseason in preparation for the Nets’ season opener against Zion Williamson and the Pelicans at home on Oct. 19.

“It was fun messing up ’cause I know how good we can be,” he explained. “And seeing just different looks and opportunities there, just working with Kevin and Ky and Joe, seeing where they want the ball and just how things are gonna work and flow. But the only way you learn is making mistakes so, I had a few out there tonight that I can go back and watch film and say I know what I did wrong and how to fix that. So, it’s all a learning process for me.”

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