Jacque Vaughn

Ben Simmons Eager To “Come Back And Dominate”

Nets guard Ben Simmons is feeling as good as he has in years and is “excited” about the upcoming season, he tells Marc J. Spears of Andscape. A three-time All-Star from 2019-21, Simmons has missed 122 games over the last two seasons due to mental and physical issues and didn’t look his old self when he was active, but he says he “definitely” thinks he’ll be ready for opening night.

“For me to come back and dominate people will be great,” Simmons said. “I don’t intend to come back the same player I was last [season], because that’s not even close to where I am. I get excited because I’m like, ‘Damn, I would [expletive] on the player I was last year.'”

Simmons, who was traded from Philadelphia to Brooklyn during the 2021/22 season following a lengthy holdout, was unable to play for the Nets that year due to back problems. He went under the knife in May 2022 to address a herniated disc and wasn’t fully recovered from the procedure when last season began — he played in 42 games, but was shut down in the second half and didn’t see the court after February 15.

Speaking to Spears, Simmons admitted that he was playing last season when he probably shouldn’t have been and suggested he was trying to “please people” after being sidelined for all of 2021/22. The 27-year-old managed to avoid a second back surgery and underwent an extended rehab process this offseason, which he’s feeling positive about. He said he has been doing 2-on-2 work for the last couple weeks and is progressing well.

“I don’t think people realize how bad it was in terms of physically how I was feeling and what I was able to do on the floor,” he said of his back issues. “… I remember my brother came to watch me work out one day, and he was just like, ‘You’re not OK, are you?’ I was looking at him, I was like, ‘Obviously not. This is not how I should be moving.’ But I’m happy I’m in this place now. I’m grateful I didn’t do anything to have another surgery.

“… Being able to sit down now and not have to lean or slouch one way, it’s kind of crazy for me. But I feel I’m at 100% now. Right now, I’m just building back to where I’m playing. I haven’t played in a while. Just taking hits and getting my body used to that.”

Here are a few other items of interest from Spears’ interview with Simmons:

  • Simmons says he “100%” wants to be part of Australia’s roster for the 2024 Olympics, assuming the Boomers qualify. “There hasn’t really been a time where I’ve been prepared and ready physically,” he said. “But next year, my goal is to be on the Olympic team.”
  • Asked if he felt any desire to ask out of Brooklyn last season like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving did, Simmons dismissed the idea: “I love Brooklyn. I don’t have an issue with Brooklyn. For me, I want to get healthy. The only thing I could do was get healthy. I couldn’t complain about anything. I’m in a great city, a great organization, great owners, great coach, great GM. It’s all good people around, and they want to win and do it the right way. Also, I don’t have specific teams I want to go to. This is a job. I’m not going to ask to be put somewhere specific, I just want to play.”
  • Simmons admitted that his relationship with head coach Jacque Vaughn got off to a rocky start when he was first traded to Brooklyn, but he feels as if he’s gotten closer to Vaughn, who has visited him multiple times in Miami this offseason. “We’re in a great place,” Simmons said. “I speak to him every other day. And I’m excited because I think Coach is great. Great as a person, great coach. That’s the main thing, just being a good human. He can relate to a lot of players, he’s played the game.”
  • Asked about his 2023/24 position, Simmons indicated that he doesn’t expect to be used as a power forward or center. “Point guard. That’s who I am,” he told Spears, adding that he has talked to Vaughn about his role. “As much as people say, ‘Fix this, fix that.’ No, I’m a point guard. When I was playing at that [high] level, nobody was really saying anything to me.”
  • Despite the way his tenure with the Sixers ended, Simmons will “always have love for Philly” and even left the door open for an eventual return to the city. “People always ask me like, ‘If you were to get traded again where you want it to be?'” he said. “I always say, ‘Just Philly. Philly is a second home to me.’ And in time, you learn and grow as people. I don’t really have anything bad to say about Philly. It was a crazy situation at the end, but it is what it is.”

Eastern Notes: Simmons, Porzingis, Hawks, Fernando, Sixers

Nets guard Ben Simmons will not partake in this year’s World Cup, Basketball Australia has announced in an official statement (Twitter link).

According to Basketball Australia, Brooklyn and Simmons have opted to withhold the former No. 1 overall pick so that he can continue to rehabilitate his ailing back ahead of the 2023/24 NBA season. Net Income of Nets Daily writes that the club is hopeful Simmons will be recovered by the start of September, just in time for training camp.

The former All-Star appeared in just 42 games for Brooklyn in 2022/23 after returning from back surgery, averaging 6.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.3 SPG and 0.6 BPG in 26.3 MPG.

There’s more out of the Eastern Conference:

  • New Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis is excited about his new opportunity to play for a perennial Eastern Conference contender, writes Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Porzingis explained his decision to opt into his $36MM option for next season, which helped enable his trade from the Wizards. “[It was] an opportunity to play for a really good team already and be able to add to that,” Porzingis said. “And hopefully to help these guys, make their life easier, and being on a high-level organization like Boston, historic franchise, iconic franchise, it made it extremely easy for me to make that decision.”
  • The Hawks have made some changes to their front office personnel, Atlanta has announced in a press release. Longtime league agent Chris Emens is joining the team as an executive advisor. The Hawks are also adding Blake Johnson as the club’s director of player engagement. Atlanta also revealed that a variety of executives have been promoted to new positions: vice president of player personnel Dotun Akinwale Jr.; senior vice president of salary cap administration Michelle Leftwich; vice president of basketball operations Grant Liffmann; senior vice president of team operations Dan Martinez; vice president of player personnel and basketball intelligence Tori Miller; principal advisor to the governor Nick Ressler; and vice president of cap strategy/player personnel Ryan Silverstein.
  • The Hawks have pushed back reserve center Bruno Fernando‘s salary guarantee deadline from June 29 to July 10, reports Lauren L. Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter). Upon being shipped to Atlanta in February from Houston, the 6’9″ big man appeared in just eight contests for the team, averaging 3.4 PPG and 1.9 RPG in 5.1 MPG. Fernando will receive his full $2.58MM salary for 2023/24 if he remains under contract through July 10.
  • Assistant coaches Fabulous Flournoy and Toure’ Murry are joining new Sixers head coach Nick Nurse‘s bench, a team source has informed Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia. The addition of another assistant, Doug West, had previously been reported.

Nets Officially Announce Changes To Coaching Staff

The Nets were among the teams to make an in-season coaching change this past season, replacing Steve Nash with Jacque Vaughn in November. Even though he spent nearly the entire 2022/23 season running the Nets, Vaughn didn’t get a chance to reshape his coaching staff until this spring.

Vaughn is taking advantage of that opportunity, with the Nets issuing a press release on Tuesday to formally announce several changes to their coaching staff.

The new additions, some of which were previously reported, are as follows:

  • Kevin Ollie (assistant coach), the former head coach of UConn and Overtime Elite.
  • Will Weaver (assistant coach), who has coached the Sydney Kings and (this past season) Paris Basketball internationally. He’s also a veteran NBA assistant who had a previous stint in Brooklyn as a Nets assistant (2016-18) and coach of the Long Island Nets (2018/19).
  • Jay Hernandez (assistant coach), who was an assistant coach and the director of player development with the Hornets for the past five seasons.
  • Ronnie Burrell (assistant coach), the head coach of the Long Island Nets in 2022/23.
  • Corey Vinson (assistant coach/player development), a former player development coach with the Suns.

According to today’s announcement, the Nets will retain assistant coach and director of player development Adam Caporn, as well as assistants Trevor Hendry and Ryan Forehan-Kelly. They all worked under Nash and will be holdovers under Vaughn as he prepares for his first full season as Brooklyn’s head coach.

Nets Coach Jacque Vaughn Won’t Retain Three Assistants

Nets coach Jacque Vaughn is shaking up his coaching staff, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets.

Igor Kokoskov, Brian Keefe and Tiago Splitter will not be retained. Kokoskov, the former Suns head coach, is the most notable name in that group. He joined the staff last offseason after a stint with the Mavericks.

Keefe was added to the Nets’ staff in the summer of 2021. He was recently under consideration for the Pistons’ head coaching opening. Splitter, a former NBA center, has been on the Nets’ staff since April 2018.

Brooklyn was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by Philadelphia.

Vaughn took over as the Nets’ head coach following Steve Nash‘s dismissal in November and had his interim label removed about a week later. Vaughn inherited Nash’s assistants and will now surround himself with a staff of his choosing.

Vaughn agreed to a multi-year extension in February that is expected to keep him under team control through the 2026/27 season.

The three coaches that Vaughn is letting go will likely land on their feet soon. There are a number of teams undergoing coaching changes, which will open up more assistant jobs around the NBA as the new head coaches assemble their staffs.

Nets Notes: Offseason Needs, C. Johnson, Curry, Watanabe

The Nets may be encouraged by how they performed after trading Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but they’ll need to add rebounders and shot creators to get past the first round of the playoffs, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Brooklyn couldn’t muster a single win in its series against the Sixers, even with Joel Embiid sidelined today with a sprained right knee. Playing without its starting center, Philadelphia had a decisive 54-38 advantage on the glass.

“We’ve got to get bigger over the summer. We’ve got to get nasty over the summer,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We’ve got to get guys who really love hitting, and take it personal when the other team gets a rebound. That’s what we’ll be looking for.”

Rebounding was only part of the problem. The Nets shot 9-of-37 from three-point range today and just 5-of-29 after the first quarter. Mikal Bridges appeared exhausted by the end of the series, Lewis observes, and would benefit from having at least one more teammate who can run the offense and attack the basket.

“For our group going forward, the ability for multiple people to get downhill and get to the paint and create opportunities, that’s a need for us, yes,” Vaughn said.

There’s more from Brooklyn:

  • The Nets will almost certainly have to go over the luxury tax line to keep restricted free agent Cameron Johnson, according to Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype. He notes that Johnson would be a good fit for virtually all the teams with cap space this summer, such as the Rockets, Magic, Jazz, Thunder and Spurs. Gozlan projects a four-year offer sheet for Johnson somewhere around $80-90MM.
  • Seth Curry could be headed elsewhere in free agency, Gozlan adds. The 32-year-old guard doesn’t appear to fit the Nets’ long-term plans and may find a better opportunity with another team. Re-signing Yuta Watanabe may be a higher priority, but Gozlan notes that Brooklyn only has non-Bird rights and would have to use part of its mid-level exception to give him a salary that’s very much above the minimum.
  • The Nets have offseason decisions to make on Royce O’Neale, who only has a $2.5MM guarantee for next season on his $9.5MM salary, and Edmond Sumner, whose $2.2MM contract for 2023/24 is non-guaranteed, per Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider link). Marks also points out that Spencer Dinwiddie will become eligible for a four-year extension worth up to $128MM in August.

Atlantic Notes: Randle, Williams, Sixers Arena, Vaughn

Julius Randle participated in the Knicks’ practice on a limited basis once again on Thursday. He didn’t go through any contact, Fred Katz of The Athletic tweets, but he is running at full speed, Steve Popper of Newsday tweets.

“If he can go he’ll go. He’s a gamer.” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said in reference to Randle’s status for Game 1.

Randle sprained his left ankle on March 29. The Knicks and Cavaliers begin their first round series on Saturday.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Celtics forward Grant Williams is headed to restricted free agency but his mind is focused on the postseason, he told Sam Yip of HoopsHype in a wide-ranging interview. “For me, it’s always been about playing to the best ability that I can, and winning as many titles as I can while I’m here. So after that, whatever happens this free agency cycle, that’ll be determined this summer after hopefully, we got the ring in my hand,” Williams said. “So that’s the main priority. No. 1 is focused on getting this ring first.”
  • Philadelphia officials have announced “an independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the Sixers’ proposal to build a $1.3 billion sports arena next to the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, according to an Associated Press report. The proposal has drawn strong opposition from some Chinatown residents and leaders. Supporters say the proposed arena, to be based around public transit, would bring needed investment and development.
  • Sixers coach Doc Rivers feels that Nets coach Jacque Vaughn is more comfortable with Brooklyn’s current roster rather than dealing with the drama brought by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, according to Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. “He has a new team, and I think he’s enjoying coaching this group more, because it’s none of that stuff anymore,” Rivers said. The Nets-Sixers series begins on Saturday.

Nets Notes: Simmons, Buyout Market, Chemistry, Vaughn

Although the Nets remade their roster at this month’s trade deadline, Ben Simmons remains the “elephant in the room,” one league executive tells Steve Bulpett of Heavy.com. The executive believes that Simmons “kind of skated on a lot of the criticism” amid the Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant drama.

“Brooklyn had questions and problems with Kyrie and KD from an organizational standpoint, but at least those guys could play,” the exec said. “They were good. Ben has been less than good.”

Back surgery last spring has limited Simmons to some extent this season, but the former No. 1 overall pick has also seemed to lack confidence, especially in half-court offense situations where he can’t use his size and athleticism as effectively as he does in transition.

“When you guard him more like a non-shooter, it’s hard for him to make decisions, because the decision that you need to make is shoot the ball,” the executive said to Bulpett. “… Ultimately for Ben, shooting is the Kryptonite. His decision-making when people are up into his body and he’s running full speed down the court and he’s in the open court with his size, he’s pretty good. But in the half-court, his decision making struggles because he can’t shoot.”

The Nets have spent much of the season searching for the ideal role for Simmons, but head coach Jacque Vaughn remains reluctant to have him on the court alongside center Nic Claxton due to spacing issues, notes Andrew Crane of The New York Post. As a result, the “ongoing Simmons conundrum,” as Crane puts it, may continue to be an issue for the rest of the season. The 26-year-old has two years and about $78MM left on his contract after this year.

Here’s more out of Brooklyn:

  • The Nets have kept an eye on the buyout market, but haven’t made it a top priority despite possessing an open 15-man roster spot, Crane writes for The New York Post. The team has more than enough depth and Vaughn and general manager Sean Marks don’t want to mess with Brooklyn’s locker room chemistry.
  • While the Nets have made plenty of mistakes in recent years, signing Vaughn to a long-term extension wasn’t one of them, according to Mike Vaccaro of The New York Post, who lauds the team for doing right by a consummate professional like Vaughn.
  • Collin Helwig of NetsDaily wonders whether the Nets should look to the Cavaliers as a model worth emulating. As Helwig observes, Cleveland built a strong core and culture and complemented that core by acquiring a star (Donovan Mitchell) this offseason. That’s the sort of deal Brooklyn could eventually seek out to augment the team’s young talent.

Nets’ Jacque Vaughn Agrees To Multiyear Extension

10:43am: Vaughn’s new contract is expected to keep him under team control through the 2026/27 season, Wojnarowski writes in his full story on the deal.

9:12am: The Nets and head coach Jacque Vaughn have agreed to a multiyear contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link). The team has issued a press release officially confirming the news.

 “Jacque has made an immediate and immeasurable impact on our entire organization since assuming the role of head coach earlier this season,” general manager Sean Marks said in a statement. “On the court, he’s clearly demonstrated his leadership through his ability to connect and communicate at a very high level while displaying tremendous instincts for the game.

“As a person, they don’t come any better than Jacque. His character is impeccable, and there is not a better representative for our team and our borough. We are thrilled to have Jacque lead the Nets for years to come.”

Vaughn took over as Brooklyn’s head coach following Steve Nash‘s dismissal in November and had his interim label removed about a week later.

The Nets were off a 2-5 start under Nash but have thrived since Vaughn’s promotion, going 32-19 under their former assistant. Brooklyn’s ability to make a deep playoff run took a hit following this month’s trades of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but the team still holds the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture for the time being.

Vaughn was an assistant for the Nets from 2016-22, briefly serving as the team’s interim coach and guiding Brooklyn to a 7-3 record after Kenny Atkinson was let go in 2020. He served as Orlando’s head coach from 2012-14, though the rebuilding club had a record of just 58-158 (.269) during his stint.

The exact terms of Vaughn’s new contract aren’t yet known, but Wojnarowski says (via Twitter) the Nets’ coach has been extended for “multiple years past the 2023/24 season.”

Kyrie Irving Trade Notes: Clippers’ Offer, Cap Hits, More

Before the Nets agreed to send Kyrie Irving to Dallas, the Clippers made an offer that included Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, a future first-round pick, and two first-round pick swaps, league sources tell Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. As O’Connor notes, at least one more outgoing salary would’ve been required for the Clippers to accommodate Irving’s incoming cap hit, but he says that was the “gist” of L.A.’s offer.

Since the Clippers already owe their 2024 and 2026 first-round picks to Oklahoma City and have given OKC swap rights in 2023 and 2025, we can safely assume that their alleged offer for Irving would’ve included their 2028 first-rounder, with swap rights in 2027 and 2029 — the Stepien rule doesn’t allow teams to leave themselves without first-round picks in consecutive future years, while the “seven year rule” doesn’t permit clubs to trade draft picks more than seven years out.

For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on the latest episode of his Lowe Post podcast (YouTube link) that he doesn’t believe O’Connor’s reporting is accurate and that he thinks the Clippers’ final offer for Irving was worth less than that.

Whatever the offer was, it wasn’t enough to entice Brooklyn to make a deal, so the Clippers will now have to adjust to the fact that Irving will be playing alongside Luka Doncic for one of their conference rivals.

“Don’t make me think about it right now, please,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said on Monday when asked about the Mavericks‘ new backcourt duo (Twitter link via Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times). “We play them Wednesday. I don’t want to think about that already. It’s going to be a tough challenge. Kyrie’s a guy we’ve always blitzed in the past, Luka’s always a guy we’ve blitzed in the past, and now they got two of them, so like I said, it’s going to be a tough challenge for a lot of teams in the West.”

Here are a few more tidbits related to the Kyrie trade, which became official on Monday:

  • Bobby Marks of ESPN (Twitter link) has the details on the new cap hits for Irving, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Spencer Dinwiddie following the trade. The cap figures for Irving and Finney-Smith got a bump as a result of trade bonuses, while Dinwiddie’s declined because some of his bonuses are now considered unlikely instead of likely. Those bonuses are tied to his team’s playoff success and are based on the previous season’s results — they had been considered likely because the Mavericks made the Western Finals last season, but Dinwiddie’s new team, the Nets, didn’t win a playoff series in 2022.
  • Irving’s track record of recruiting star teammates was a factor in the Mavericks‘ desire to acquire him, according to Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (Twitter link). Based on reporting at the time, it was Kyrie who convinced Kevin Durant to join him in Brooklyn back in 2019 when the two stars opted to sign with the Nets.
  • Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said on Monday that he’s looking forward to coaching Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith, but wishes Irving nothing but the best in Dallas, per Nick Friedell of ESPN. “My interactions with Kai have always been positive,” Vaughn said. “I enjoyed coaching him. I want him to succeed. I’ll keep it that simple. We’ve had some ups and downs I guess along the way. I’ve also seen the young man score 60 points. I’ve also seen him bring his kids into the locker room. I’ve also seen him grow as an individual and be a better teammate than when I first met him. So for me, I’m going to always look at the good in people and want the good in people. And I want him to succeed.”

Atlantic Notes: Randle, Reddish, Young, Simmons

Knicks power forward Julius Randle has returned to an All-Star level of play following a down year during the 2021/22 season. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details how the 6’9″ big man adjusted his approach to the game to maximize his abilities yet again.

Randle recently credited a summer 2022 conversation with New York assistant coach Johnnie Bryant, who gave Randle a reality check about his attitude last season.

“He was talking about the year before and said something like, ‘If you were your teammates and saw you acting the way you did sometimes, with body language, showing frustration, would you want to be your teammate?’” Randle recalled. “And I said, ‘No.’ So I had to look myself in the mirror and take accountability and get better and learn from it.”

“He came and saw me and it was more like big brother, little brother, holding me accountable, talking to me, getting my mind right, more than anything,” Randle explained. “He came to me and had an honest conversation. And it helped me put my ego and my pride to the side. And try to adjust my game and look at myself in the mirror and do what’s best for the team.” 

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Though it seems likely the Knicks will find a new home for 2018 lottery pick Cam Reddish, who has been out of New York’s rotation for two months, Steve Popper of Newsday wonders if the club will make additional trades by Thursday’s trade deadline.
  • Raptors forward Thaddeus Young has been a massive tone-setter for Toronto’s younger players, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic, who opines that Young’s influence will resonate beyond his time with the club. “Big time vet,” Raptors big man Precious Achiuwa said of the 34-year-old. “Been in the league a long time, and we’re just trying to learn from him as much as we can.”
  • Nets point forward Ben Simmons had imaging done on his troublesome knee, but head coach Jacque Vaughn indicates that an MRI revealed nothing particularly worrisome long-term in the ligament, per Nick Friedell of ESPN (Twitter link). Simmons has been unavailable since January 26 as a result of knee soreness.