Up until Monday night, Ben Simmons had not played NBA basketball since he passed up a wide-open dunk the final minutes of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021. Simmons's saga took so many turns in the 470 days between that game against the Hawks and yesterday that it became hard to remember that his comeback from the lowest moment in his career had not even really begun. The first step is finally, blessedly, out of the way.
Simmons played 19 minutes in a preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, scoring six points to go along with five assists and four rebounds. How did he look while playing professional organized basketball for the first time in over a year and a half? Well, he looked liked Ben Simmons. Which is to say he ran the floor well, played good defense, made a nice pass ...
... and also did this:
Simmons also missed his only two free throws and heard some boos from fans, but none of it seemed to bother him too much. He told reporters after the game that he was more excited about playing than he was nervous, and described himself as "grateful" at being able to return to an NBA court. "I had a lot of fun out there," he said.
Last month, Simmons sat down for an hour-long podcast episode with former teammate JJ Redick, in which he came off like a guy who has made peace with the current state of his career. It obviously behooves Simmons to start trying to rehabilitate his image, and Redick was about as friendly an audience as he could have asked for, but, listening to him talk, it really did feel like he's ready to put all that mess behind him.
If he's really going to do that, a good first step would be for Simmons and his teammates to accept his game as it currently exists. Lost in all the debate about what sorts of things Simmons can't or should be doing on the court is the fact that the current version of him that exists as a basketball player is perfectly fine. No, he's not ever going to be an MVP or the best player on a contending team, and, yes, he will routinely take jumpers that threaten to clang off the underside of the rim, but he can do a lot of other stuff. A 6-foot-10 point-center who defends like hell, pushes the break, and passes like a genius is a pretty ideal running mate for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. So let this be the season in which Ben Simmons just plays basketball as he's meant to do, and leaves all the psychodrama to his teammates.