NEW YORK -- As Brooklyn Nets swingman Ben Simmons gets acclimated to his new team, veteran guard Patty Mills says he sees a "fire built up" inside the 25-year-old three-time All-Star as Simmons restarts his NBA career again after requesting a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers.
"I see a real hunger-ness from him," Mills said after Wednesday's shootaround. "His demeanor and his desire not only to get back on the floor but make a significant impact -- he's got a lot of, I believe, fire built up underneath him that has a desire to get back and be the player that he is, and even get better, and even grow and even develop. And that's one thing that I'm excited to be in the same room and locker room as him to do my part to help him develop and help him grow and help in any way possible there."
Simmons was acquired last week from the Sixers along with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks in exchange for All-Star guard James Harden and Paul Millsap. Simmons noted again during his introductory news conference on Tuesday that one of the reasons he felt he no longer wanted to play in Philadelphia had to do with his mental health and feeling that he wasn't himself after a variety of issues piled up over the years.
Mills, who first met Simmons when he was in primary school in Australia, the equivalent of elementary school in the United States, says that Simmons has fit in "great" since he started getting to know his new teammates over the past few days.
"I think just his mojo, his energy," Mills said. "Being in this environment, being with us, spirits are high. I think he can feel the energy of the group and where we're at at the moment and where we're trying to be. So he just slides right in there right now -- obviously making him feel as welcome as we can be. It's exciting time for him, I'm sure, after some time off. But exciting for us to add the pieces to our puzzle of obviously achieving our goal."
While the Nets haven't had a formal practice since Simmons' arrival, he has been able to observe the team's past couple of walk-throughs and is getting more familiar with the sets Nets coach Steve Nash wants to run.
Mills said the group remains "100 percent" confident that the Nets can still turn the season around and win a championship this year, despite the fact that they come into Wednesday's game against the New York Knicks having lost 11 of 12 and still dealing with a variety of issues, including Kevin Durant's absence because of a sprained MCL and Kyrie Irving's part-time status because of the New York City vaccination mandate.
Nash addressed Durant's road back, as well, and doesn't expect the star to return "right when the [All-Star] break ends."
"There's obviously a small chance, but we want to be really careful and safe with Kevin. A setback would be tough when we only have, whatever it is, 20 or so games left," Nash said. "We don't want to jeopardize it or have a setback where he misses another six to 10 or 12 games of the 20."
But Mills said the belief that the group can get back on track has only strengthened in recent days as the Nets start to see pieces come together.
"Because I think we have guys on the team -- that desire, genuine desire, to win a championship is strong," Mills said. "So that doesn't waver. Is there adversity along the way? Does it get blurry a little bit? Sure, sometimes. But I think that the players that we have in the locker room, that end goal of what we're trying to get to doesn't change. And we use all of those adversities to be able to build the character of each individual in the locker room that will build the character of the team.
"So we're starting to get our identity of who we want to be on and off the court. We stay strong together as a group, and I think with everything that has gone on we've become closer as a group because of it. But that end goal hasn't changed for us, and I think that's because of the winners we have in the locker room and the type of people we have."
One of the other reasons the Nets are feeling good despite the recent string of losses and injuries is the arrival of Curry. The veteran guard scored 23 points in his Nets debut in a win over the Sacramento Kings on Monday night and joked that he was a little tired because he wasn't used to having the offense run through him all the time.
"It was fun," Curry said. "It was tiring the other night. It felt like every time down they were looking for me to make a play and a couple times I just wanted to rest because obviously in Philly [the offense] wasn't getting ran through me like that most nights. But it's fun, it's a good test for me, good challenge for me to test my game and see where I am as far as a playmaker. Making good decisions with the ball, not just scoring. And it's a learning process; I know things are going to be different when other guys come back, so I'm just trying to take advantage of it and help the team win and do whatever it takes."
Curry said that knowing Durant is expected to be back in the next couple of weeks makes things even more "exciting" for the group as the Nets head into the All-Star break.
"A lot of optimism," Curry said. "Guys getting closer to getting back and having our full team and seeing what we're going to be. So whenever you play with a star talent like that, like Kyrie and even Ben, when they come back, it's going to take some time for us to adjust to playing with those guys, just the level of play they're at and what they mean to this team, so the sooner we get back, the sooner we can get used to playing with them and getting our style of play with those guys on the floor."
Mills is confident that this weekend's All-Star break will serve as a "reset button" for a team that is confident its best days are still in front of it.
"I think we're at a good place right now," Mills said. "We need to definitely make the most of the opportunities tonight and [Thursday] night to head into that break with some momentum and then hit the reset button over All-Star break to come in and absolutely come with ferocity, mouth drooling and foam just being able to have that determination and feeling we're getting after this thing for the rest of the season. So that's what I'm keen to take momentum into the break and then come out of there really hungry."