Count me among those who enjoy a good soft opening. You get to check out the restaurant space, try a newly created menu, and judge the decor while waitstaff fumble over pronunciations and the back of the house yell at each other over ticket times. There are no real consequences because nothing is at stake; it’s a purely experimental exercise.
That’s essentially what the Nets are doing with Ben Simmons, as he’ll sit on the bench when Brooklyn visits Philadelphia on Thursday, per ESPN. The Sixers fans within earshot of Simmons will provide him with a taste of the on-court reception he’ll receive when he finally sees playing time in his return from injury and the abyss of Daryl Morey’s war chest.
And on the tasting menu this week for Simmons is… Simmons. It’ll be a raw preparation, with the Philly faithful showcasing their knife skills to dice up any semblance of confidence he regained since getting skewered after the playoffs last year. Then, to top it off, add a pinch of East Coast saltiness and a squeeze of over-the-line juice to make those flavorful taunts really pop.
In all seriousness, the best way to get this over with is to just get it over with. Ideally, by simply returning to the scene of his personal implosion, Simmons will be able to process the falling out and then focus on basketball again.
Brooklyn head coach and purveyor of chill Steve Nash also is on board with the move.
“It’s great,” Nash told ESPN. “He’s on our team, he needs to be with his teammates and get the whole Philly thing out of the way a little bit. Maybe it never goes away, but the first time it’s always nice to kind of deal with it and move on.”
Moving on is exactly what NBA fans want out of Simmons. He’s not Michael Jordan playing baseball. He hasn’t earned the right to be dissected, discussed, and debated ad nauseam. Talk about trading him has been go-to filler for podcasts and SportsCenter for so long that you’d think he’s the essential ingredient to unlocking a team’s title aspirations, and not a guy who is frightened to shoot.
I’m not going to question the validity of his mental illness because that’s more fucked up than using one as an excuse to keep getting paid. It’s evident he cares deeply about what people think of him. If he didn’t, he’d chuck 3s with the same disregard Giannis Antetokuonmpo has when he hoists from deep rather than carefully curate made jumpers from an open gym run.
Shit, as I’m thinking this through, maybe Simmons isn’t in the safest headspace to sit court side while sports’ meanest fanbase — outside of soccer fans who chant racial epithets and kill each other — lobs insult after insult after insult. Russell Westbrook can’t even take Lakers’ fans calling him “Westbrick,” and he seems to not give a fuck what anybody thinks.
However, as long as the items being lobbed at Simmons are insults and not batteries, I’m all for it. I don’t know how he’s getting along with his new teammates, but one would hope they’ll have his back because it’s going to be viscous.
“I don’t think he’s naive [enough] to think he’s not going to get some boos,” Nash added about Simmons. “I hope he enjoys it. It’s a part of the game I miss.”
You know what part of the game I miss? The part where basketball players… play basketball.