Ten days ago, the idea of Ben Simmons making his return to Philadelphia and actually playing in a game was unfathomable.
The Brooklyn Nets had just played the LA Clippers and Simmons looked wholly out of sorts: timid, uncomfortable, unsure of his role on the team. The Nets beat the Clippers, 110-95, but Simmons was barely a footnote in the box score, finishing with two points in 14 ineffectual minutes.
The next night against the Los Angeles Lakers, Simmons was a late scratch with knee soreness. Such a late scratch, he spent 10 minutes behind closed doors after the game with Nets general manager Sean Marks, the two discussing how Simmons needed to communicate better to avoid a repeat of the situation.
But Simmons has emerged from that meeting with Marks, and that dreadful weekend in Los Angeles, playing his best basketball in years.
After failing to score in double figures in any of his first nine games, Simmons has scored 11, 15 and 22 points in the Nets' last three games, including an efficient 11-for-13 from the floor in Sunday's win against the Memphis Grizzlies. His defense has started to resemble its previous excellence, and his rebounding has some verve to it. Even his on-court demeanor has improved.
It is exactly the kind of progression Simmons and the Nets were hoping for this season. The best possible lead-in to the deluge of boos and emotions he'll face when he steps on the court to play at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) to compete in his first game against his former team since a messy exit that marred all of last season.
And yet nobody, not even Simmons, can tell you how he'll react once he enters the arena and faces his former teammates -- and a familiar crowd eager to welcome him back.