Where to here for the Brooklyn Nets after their most damning loss of the season?
Just when their campaign was moving in the right direction, the Nets were crushed by the Sacramento Kings 153-121 on Wednesday (all times AEDT) to fall to 6-9
The 153 points are most allowed by the Nets in franchise history and the most the Kings have scored in 29 years in a historic smashing.
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Ben Simmons came off the bench yet again and played much better in his new back-up center role, scoring a season-high 11 points – the most points he’s scored since June 14, 2021 – to go with five rebounds and three assists.
But despite the Aussie making a step in the right direction offensively, it was a seriously ugly contest for Jacque Vaughn’s side overall where there weren’t many positives as the newly appointed coach continues to search for winning rotations and formulas.
Simmons, who’s the third highest paid player on the Nets at $35 million, has been limited to 10 games this season in his return as he battles through a knee issue, while his struggles when he’s been available have been well documented – averaging career lows across the board (5.8 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists in 26.6 minutes).
And now, The Athletic reports there remains “skepticism” within the Nets organization about the 26-year old’s overall impact.
According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation, the frustration surrounding Simmons had been building in recent weeks within the organization. The coaching staff and players have been concerned about his availability and level of play from him, with some questioning his passion for the game, those sources said. But even when he did play, Simmons’ struggles in his first nine games this season were part of the Nets frustration as well,” the report states.
Simmons underwent back surgery in May that held him out of the end of last season after being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers, while he recently had his left knee drained due to fluid.
Speaking to The Athletic, the former Pick 1 opened up on the criticism he’s received, but emphasized how much his knee injury has been bothering him.
“You’re obviously not gonna be happy when anybody’s out,” Simmons told The Athletic. “But for me, I’ve been dealing with the knee since the start of the season. It’s been swollen. I had PRP (injections). I had blood drained a couple times. So it’s not a made up thing, you know? It’s a real thing.
“I get (the skepticism), but I think the one thing with me is that I’m a competitor. I want to win and play. So I’m gonna do what I can to get out there.”
Simmons is no stranger to such scrutiny after sitting out all of last season following his trade standoff with the Sixers including the Aussie battling mental health issues.
But Simmons granted there’s “only so much I can really do” about perception.
Nets demolished by Kings in Sacramento | 01:19
“You can’t make people believe, you know? They weren’t there when I was on the floor and couldn’t walk (because of his back from him), ”he said.
“They weren’t there when I was in the ambulance getting taken to the hospital (after a February 2020 game at Milwaukee). People weren’t there, so they don’t know. That was the first episode I had against Milwaukee. That was the original trigger of it… right before Covid, the start of my back issues.
“But that’s a part of my journey. There’s times when I couldn’t walk. I had a dead foot. Couldn’t sleep. A lot of stuff was going on with me, physically, to where it was tough. But there’s only so much I can say for somebody to believe, you know?”
The Athletic reports frustrations towards Simmons first emerged after the Nets’ October 30 loss to the Pacers where they held a players-only meaning post-match.
It’s believed veteran Markieff Morris addressed the need for Simmons to be at his best and respond when he faces adversity on the court – calls Simmons reportedly responded well to.
Brooklyn is now desperate to turn its season around that’s been marred with chaos amid the recent departure of coach Steve Nash and Kyrie Irving’s indefinite suspension.
With Irving out and Simmons’ move to the bench, the Nets have $72 million of their payroll out of the starting line-up as the likes of Royce O’Neale and Edmond Sumner have stepped in.
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant continues to perform at an elite level, averaging 30.3 points per game, 6.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists with a career-best 1.9 blocks ad shooting a career-best 92.8 per cent from the free throw line.
The former MVP has been something of a one-man show for the Nets this season with his two co-stars in and out of the side for different reasons.
It comes after Durant requested a trade during the off-season before eventually returning to the team and making peace.
However Bleacher Report’s chris haynesReports rival executives are monitoring the 34-year old in hopes of another trade request amid the team’s disorder.
Durant has now shed more details on his trade request, revealing it stemmed from feeling like he wasn’t playing in a healthy work environment.
“It wasn’t difficult at all to request a trade because it was about ball,” Durant told Bleacher Report.
“I went to them and was like, ‘Yo, I don’t like how we are preparing. I don’t like shoot arounds. I like practices. I need more. I want to work on more s**t. Hold me accountable. Get on my ass in film if that’s going to help you get on everybody else’s head. I want to do more closeouts. I want to work on more shell drills at practice.’
“This was the type of s**t I was coming at them with… I wasn’t feeling that, and nobody was on that same vibe with me. Jacque Vaughn is.
“I want us to be respected out here in the basketball world. I don’t want players to look at us and say, ‘Oh man, these (expletive) are full of s**t. So when we’re all playing like s**t, you know the one person they’re going to look at. That’s why I requested a trade.”
Durant admitted there’s new-found energy on the Nets under Vaughn and says he’s happy where he’s at, although they clearly have plenty of work to do to climb the Eastern Conference standings.
The 12-time All-Star also opened up on criticism of his leadership.
“I’m not a leader? What the f**k does that mean? A lot of people say I’m not a leader because I didn’t tell Kyrie to get vaccinated. Come on. Or I did not condemn Kyrie for leaving the team, going out and living his life. I’m not about to tell a grown-ass man what he can and can’t do with his own life from him and dissect his views from him or how he thinks about s**t.
“We can have a conversation and exchange perspectives on how I feel about the topic and you feel about the topic, but everybody else don’t need to know or hear about our conversations because we’re grown-ass men. I don’t operate like that.”
Durant also acknowledged the Nets aren’t where they want to be right now, but believes expectations need to be tempered given the hurdles they’ve faced.
“Look at our starting lineup. Edmond Sumner, Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, (Nic) Claxton and me. It’s not disrespected, but what are you expecting from that group?“ You expect us to win because I’m out there. So if you’re watching from that lens, you’re expecting us to play well because No. 7 is out there,” he said.
“I’m really having a good time… all that extra s**t like, ‘You got to win before you retire and make sure your legacy is straight,’ that’s bulls**t to me.
“My legacy is preached on what Cam Thomas is learning from me and what he’ll take away to help him by the time he’s in his 10th year. That’s my legacy. What I did with Andre Roberson, the confidence I helped him build when he was in the league. That’s my legacy. Being able to play with Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry and Kyrie and still be me.
“Yeah, that’s my legacy. That’s who I am. That’s what I bring to the game.”