Simmons, Kawhi, Murray, MPJ Returned To Action On Monday

Nets guard Ben Simmons, Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, and Nuggets stars Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. all made their preseason debuts on Monday, returning to an NBA court for the first time in 2022.

Simmons missed all of the 2021/22 season due to a holdout, mental health issues, and back problems; Leonard and Murray sat out the season while recovering from ACL tears; and Porter was shut down due to a back injury last November after playing in just nine games.

In addition to being Simmons’ first game in 470 days, it was also the first time he has suited up for his new team since being traded from Philadelphia to Brooklyn. Simmons played 19 minutes against his old team, and while the Sixers beat the Nets by 19 points, the former No. 1 overall pick said he felt “amazing” being back on the court, per Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said after scoring six points and dishing five assists in 19 minutes. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

Leonard, meanwhile, was playing for the first time since being injured in the second round of the playoffs against Utah in June of 2021. He had 11 points and four rebounds in a victory over Portland in Seattle, writes Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. While Leonard acknowledged that he probably won’t be playing 35-plus minutes out of the gate this season, he – like Simmons – said he was more excited than nervous to get back on the court.

“It was great,” Leonard said. “Just being able to put all that hard work that I did throughout the, 14, 16 months, just able to put it to (the) test and playing against NBA talent, it was good. Just being out there with the guys and talking, I missed it. It was a great experience for me.”

As for Murray, he called his return vs. Oklahoma City – his first game in 539 days – “a lot of fun” and told reporters that he “felt like a rookie out there” (Twitter links via Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports and Mike Singer of The Denver Post). He and Porter will need more time to find their rhythm, but both players came out of their preseason debuts feeling good, Singer writes in a full story for The Denver Post (subscription required).

While Simmons, Leonard, Murray, and Porter made their long-awaited returns on Monday, Pelicans forward Zion Williamson is poised to do so on Tuesday after missing the entire 2021/22 season due to a broken foot. Kevin Durant said after the Nets’ loss on Monday that having all these stars healthy again is great news for the NBA.

“Being away for a year, you get a lot of anxiety not playing,” Durant said, per Friedell. “I know I did. Just anxious to see how I’m playing, where I’m going to play, what my role is on the team. But as a fan of the game, Kawhi being back is great for basketball, Jamal Murray being back is great for basketball, all the guys that have been out injured and being able to play again, it’s a great feeling seeing them out there.”

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