Ben Simmons excited, says he has to be Brooklyn Nets' motor

NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets swingman Ben Simmons couldn't hold back his excitement as he prepared to play in his first regular-season NBA game in almost a year and a half.

"Ready to go," Simmons said after Wednesday's shootaround, in advance of the Nets' season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans. "Very excited. I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing. We got a great group of guys here, and we're ready to roll."

Simmons last played in an NBA game in June 2021 when he was on the Philadelphia 76ers and they lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He requested a trade later that summer, citing mental health concerns, and was ultimately dealt to the Nets just before last February's trade deadline.

Simmons never made his Brooklyn debut because of lingering back issues that would later result in offseason back surgery. After so much time away from the game, Simmons appears to have a new lease on his basketball life.

"Slowly getting back to who I am and who I'm supposed to be," Simmons said when asked what he's improved most from the start of training camp until now. "Still taking a lot of time. I've only played four games -- but over time I'm going to get there."

Simmons appreciates the fact that his new teammates and coaches have repeatedly stood behind him publicly since his February arrival, and he has enjoyed building up the camaraderie within the new group. As he starts his first season playing alongside Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the rest of his new teammates, he looks forward to being a force for the new group.

"If I'm not aggressive, this team's not going," Simmons said. "Like if I'm not pushing the ball, if I'm not finding my guys then those easy shots that we're getting now are not going to happen. So I got to be the motor."

Simmons is also looking forward to the defensive tone he feels like he can set for the Nets throughout the season.

"There's not many guys who can do that," Simmons said of being a defensive trendsetter. "I take that opportunity when it comes to guard the best players in the world, so it's a pretty good job."

At the same time, Simmons is confident that his new team will be able to grow together and will find its rhythm throughout the season -- especially on the defensive end of the floor.

"I don't think it's a matter of just me individually," Simmons said. "I think I definitely want to come out here and set the tone. We speak about that a lot as a team, but I feel like everybody's on the same page. So it doesn't really matter whether it's me, Kev, Royce [O'Neale] or [Nic Claxton] -- I think everybody has it in them and wants to do their job defensively."