LAS VEGAS — The Nets say the key to them making the leap to the next level isn’t getting an All-Star, but getting their lone All-Star healthy.
This means getting Ben Simmons fit and back in form.
Brooklyn only has one All-Star on its roster, and that’s Simmons.
As he recovers from past problems, the question is, can fans expect him to return to All-Star form anytime soon?
“Yeah, that’s a great question,” Nets GM Sean Marks said Sunday after a 98-80 Summer League win over the Knicks. “Reasonably, the hope is that he will return to that level of play.
“If he was 35, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell you that. But knowing that he is in his mid-20s and hopefully he still hasn’t reached his peak, we’re going to make sure he can get back out there and get back to that form. And hopefully we’ll see her grow her game even further. But health is going to be the key for him.
But can the Nets really be sure that will happen?
They traded James Harden for Simmons in February 2022, and he has only played in 42 games for them, none since February. 15 due to back problems.
After Simmons had a microdiscectomy for a herniated L-4 disc on May 5, 2022, multiple experts told The Post that he would take 18 months to fully recover.
He tried to play through the pain last season, but was sidelined due to a nerve injury.
Still rehabilitating in Miami, the 26-year-old Simmons has pulled out of next month’s FIBA World Cup and notably isn’t playing three-on-three, let alone five-on-five, just yet. Not at all, but in many ways he holds the key to Brooklyn’s fortunes.
“He’s not doing three-on-three or five-on-five yet. I went out there with him and the training staff two weeks ago to see the progress, and am happy to report that he is in good physical shape. And mentally as well, he’s eager and excited to be out there,” Marks said. “We’ve got time. It’s not something we’re going to call him back to play five-on-five in the next couple of weeks. But he is making progress.
“In this particular summer, he just ran out of time [to play in the World Cup], It was not the right thing to throw him out there without playing and rushing. …I feel it was done in the best interests of Brooklyn and for Ben’s long-term health.”
Simmons’ long-term health is offseason priority number one. 1.
He still has two years and $78.2 million left on his contract. For a young All-Star who averaged 14.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists in his career — and was a 2021 Defensive Player of the Year runner-up — it seems fitting.
For a compromised and inconsistent recapture project that only averaged 6.9 points and came off the bench last season, this is a crisis.
It’s no surprise what Spencer Dinwiddie said when asked by NBA TV’s Dennis Scott what the Nets need to take the next step.
“The easy answer is Ben,” Dinwiddie said. “A healthy Ben is an all-star, max level guy. He could completely change the complexion of our team and make us a really exciting group, especially defensively.
“Ben was already injured so I only played a few games with him. But I know him from his old Philly days and for all intents and purposes he may be back in that form. I think this thing is present in him. Obviously a young guy and I look forward to seeing it this season.
When the Nets had controversial contract negotiations with Kyrie Irving and forced him into a trade, Marx was asked about getting the star a three-year deal in Dallas.
“I think when players leave here and they go somewhere else, it’s a different environment, it’s a different opportunity for them. We wish them all the best, I wish Kyrie and the Mavericks well,” Marks said. “We are clearly on a different timeline etc. So I’m honestly not paying attention to what could or should happen.”