NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets star Ben Simmons couldn’t hold back his excitement as he geared up to play his first game of the NBA regular season in nearly a year and a half.

“Ready to go,” Simmons said after the Wednesday shootout before the Nets’ season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans. “Very excited. I’m looking forward to getting out and playing. We have a great group of players here, and we’re ready to step in.”

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

Simmons never made his Brooklyn debut due to lingering back issues that would later lead to off-season back surgery. After so much time away from the game, it looks like Simmons has a new lease on his basketball life.

“I’m slowly getting back to who I am and am supposed to be,” Simmons said when asked about his improvement from the start of bootcamp until now. “I still take a lot of time. I only played four games – but with time I will get there.”

Simmons appreciates the fact that his new teammates and coaches have stood behind him time and time again since his arrival in February, and he has enjoyed building camaraderie within the new group. As he begins his first season playing alongside Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the rest of his new teammates, he’s looking to be a force for the new group.

“If I wasn’t aggressive, this team wouldn’t go,” Simmons said. “As if I didn’t push the ball, if I didn’t find my mates, those easy shots we get now won’t happen. So I have to be the mover.”

Simmons is also looking forward to the defensive style that he feels he can set with the net all season.

“There aren’t a lot of guys who can do that,” Simmons said of being a defensive lead. “I take this opportunity when it comes to guarding the best players in the world, so it’s a good job.”

Meanwhile, Simmons is confident that his new squad will be able to grow together and find their rhythm throughout the season – especially at the defensive end of the floor.

“I don’t think it’s just about me,” Simmons said. “I think I definitely want to get out here and set the tone. We talk about it a lot as a team, but I feel like everyone is on the same page. So it doesn’t really matter if it’s me, how, Royce.” [O’Neale] or [Nic Claxton] – I think everyone has that and they want to do their job defensively.”

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