Simmons returning soon would be a ‘shock’
Injured Nets playmaker still not ready to contribute
The Brooklyn Nets have been waiting for Ben Simmons to declare himself ready to lend a hand in the franchise’s pursuit of its first-ever NBA title.
They may just have to wait until next year to get any return from the biggest chip in the trade-deadline deal that sent James Harden to Philadelphia two months ago.
“He’s not running, so yeah,” Nets head coach Steve Nash said Monday when asked if Simmons would be able to participate in any of Brooklyn’s four remaining regular-season contests and a potential play-in game next week.
“I don’t see him [being ready]. I would be shocked.”
Many fans were shocked when Harden made his wishes to depart our borough clear back in February.
The three-time NBA scoring champion, former league MVP and Nets’ all-time leader in triple-doubles got sent to Philly for Simmons, who had not played since last May due to mental health concerns.
Though veteran core players like Andre Drummond and Seth Curry also came along in the blockbuster trade, Simmons was supposed to be Brooklyn’s new third superstar, or at least some facsimile thereof.
Entering Tuesday night’s home game vs. Houston, the Nets were locked in the 9-10 play-in game, meaning a loss would end their season and a win would give them a shot at playing the winner of the 7-8 contest for the right to advance to a first-round playoff series.
Charlotte and Brooklyn are currently tied with identical 40-38 records, but the Hornets took two of three from the Nets during the regular season to gain home-court advantage if the teams finish deadlocked.
Simmons had been practicing with his teammates, but an ongoing back issue curbed his progress and the Nets are still unsure when, or if, Simmons will be back on the hardwood.
“I mean that’s a big progression just to get here,” Nash said. “So he was doing nothing on the floor. But obviously he clearly started strengthening and doing some light shooting. So super positive on one hand; on the other hand, it’s not like … we’re expecting him in the lineup in the next week.”
Only one game behind Atlanta for the No. 8 seed and a pair of opportunities to reach the postseason, the Nets will have to find a way to end their two-game slide, with Saturday’s road loss coming against the Hawks.
Last year, Brooklyn beat Philly in the opening round before falling to eventual NBA champion Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Right now, the Nets are just hoping to get into a best-of-7, especially knowing that their season could end in a single play-in loss.
But Nash isn’t giving up on Simmons for the season just yet.
If the Nets make it into a playoff series, Nash indicated that he wouldn’t hesitate to play the 25-year-old guard, if he deems himself fit for duty and not before.
“If he had played 65 games, this year and we’re going into the playoffs, and he had a few weeks’ injury, maybe [you’d think about rushing the normal progression],” Nash said.
“But, I think in this situation, we got to put his health and safety first and make sure that we’re certain he’s ready to play and contribute. And the other part is he hasn’t played basketball, so you don’t know what kind of Ben you get. And he hasn’t been in an NBA game for, you know, nine to 10 months.”
It may be well over a year without any NBA action for the player the Nets were hoping would fill the void left by Harden.
Unless, of course, the Nets keep winning and Simmons joins his teammates for what Brooklynites are hoping will be a long playoff run.
“We’ll see,” Nash said told ESPN. “I don’t want to get too far down the road, like, I don’t want to walk through the next five weeks with you guys and guessing — you guys saw where he is today. He’s doing some increased strengthening, some increased mobility stuff, a little bit of shooting and that’s it.”
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