PHOENIX — Brooklyn Nets forward Ben Simmons‘ struggles continued during a 117-112 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night in which he was ejected for arguing with referee Eric Lewis after playing just 18 minutes.
The loss was the fourth straight for the Nets, who continue to flounder without star forward Kevin Durant, who is out for several more weeks because of an MCL sprain in his right knee.
Nets coach Jacque Vaughn, when asked how the team could get Simmons back on track, pointed out that his struggles are coming on “both sides of the basketball.”
“We need him to be productive, and that is without the fouls,” Vaughn said. “That is helping us rebound the basketball. That is playing with poise and composure. That is pushing the pace for us.
“So unfortunately when you’re a really good basketball player, your list is long and so are the responsibilities. And hopefully, we’ll continue to ask of those things and challenge him and challenge this group to be able to answer those long lists.”
After racking up his first triple-double as a Net in Tuesday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Simmons spent Thursday’s game mired in foul trouble and finished with seven points, four rebounds, six assists and four turnovers. It has been a repeated pattern of inconsistency for the former All-Star, who has missed 11 games this season because of various injuries.
After being called for his fifth foul with 8:47 left in the third quarter, Simmons continued chirping at Lewis and was quickly whistled for two technicals in the span of a few seconds. After the game, he declined to go into details about the sequence.
“I don’t want to say nothing because I ain’t trying to get another fine,” Simmons said.
Simmons said he felt like he wasn’t getting a consistent whistle throughout the game on how screens were being set.
“I think if you’re going to call the game like that, then you got to be consistent,” he said. “I think it’s been like that all year. If you’re going to call a moving back, then you got to be consistent [on] both ends. Same with the holding.”
Aside from Simmons’ performance in Thursday’s game, the larger issue for the Nets is that he hasn’t shown to be the All-Star-caliber player the organization thought it was getting when it traded for him just before last February’s deadline in a deal that sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers. While he has shown flashes of his old play, his inability to stay on the floor and contribute at a high level has become problematic as the season has worn on.
While Vaughn remains hopeful that Simmons will find his way with more film work and an ongoing dialogue with the coaching staff, his flaws are becoming more apparent as the Nets try to turn things around without Durant. The Nets go into Friday’s game against the Utah Jazz having lost four straight and have road games with the Golden State Warriors and Simmons’ old team, the 76ers, after that.
Simmons is averaging just 7.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists so far this year. So what else can the Nets do to get him going again?
“Same thing we’ve been doing is just give him a ton of confidence,” Nets guard Kyrie Irving said. “But also knowing that he’s mature enough to handle himself. He’s a very talented basketball player and we could name all the superlatives, but we need him in the game and I think he understands that, especially during this stretch we’re going to need him in every game.
“I’ve gotten ejected before only once in my career. Tempers flare, you disagree with the refs, but the big picture is the most important thing, and on this team, I think Ben realizes that. But tonight, just his emotions got the best of him.”