After meeting with Brooklyn Nets, mental health remains focus of Ben Simmons return, sources say

In a meeting with Brooklyn Nets leadership on Monday afternoon, Ben Simmons and Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul spoke about the physical and mental hurdles remaining in the All-Star’s pursuit of a return to play, a discussion that made clear to the participants a need to keep addressing the mental side of that process, sources told ESPN.

Simmons reiterated what he’s consistently told team officials since his arrival from the Philadelphia 76ers on Feb. 10: He wants to play and perform for the Nets as soon as possible, and still isn’t ruling out that happening this season should the Nets survive Monday’s elimination game against the Boston Celtics, sources said. Boston leads the best-of-seven series 3-0.

The Nets made clear to Simmons and Paul that the organization plans to continue giving the three-time All-Star every resource necessary in the short and long term, sources said.

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After nearly two weeks of pain-free ramp-up, the Nets and Simmons believed he was on the cusp of playing until Simmons arrived at the team’s practice facility on Sunday reporting a return of back soreness. Simmons had been rehabilitating a herniated disc in his lower back and had repeatedly expressed his eagerness to return in this series against Celtics and, perhaps, provide some defense on Boston’s elite wing players, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

The Nets were clearly disappointed on Sunday to learn of Simmons, 25, describe his physical setback, but conversations on Monday with Simmons and Paul were described as candid and detailed about the challenges that remain and reaffirming of the idea that Simmons is determined to find his way back to the court, sources said.

Simmons, a three-time All-Star and the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year, has three years and $114 million left on his contract after this season.

While Simmons hadn’t been able to scrimmage with the Nets starters, there was still some hope his presence on the court could provide some help to a flailing team — and allow him to get back into an NBA game for the first time this season.

An underwhelming performance in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers set into motion a turbulent 10 months of trade requests, mental health issues and back trouble. Simmons arrived with the Nets with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks in a blockbuster trade on February 10 that sent James Harden to the 76ers. Simmons filed a grievance to challenge the nearly $20 million of salary withheld to him by the 76ers this season.

Philadelphia has repeatedly insisted that Simmons was in breach of his contract under the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and National Basketball Players Association and had the right to recoup the money advanced to him before the season. The NBA and NBPA have been at odds on the issue, and now arbitration could set a precedent on how future matters of mental health and contracts might be handled. The 76ers have insisted that Simmons breached his player contract upon failing to show up for the start of training camp and refusing to play during the preseason and regular season.

Simmons arrived in Philadelphia near the end of the preseason but cited his mental health for the reason that his participation in team activities was so limited. The 76ers and Simmons disagreed over the degrees of access that the team and its doctors were allotted to Simmons to diagnose and affirm his mental health.