The Nets are playing the best opossum game or you shouldn’t expect Ben Simmons to be back any time soon.
Amid rumors and reports that the talented but enigmatic newcomer could make his debut for the Nets in the upcoming first-round series against the Celtics, coach Steve Nash and star Kevin Durant dropped a bucket of ice water on that possibility. .
“No, I don’t expect him to play,” Durant said after Thursday’s practice. “That’s easier for me. I’m not going to pressure Ben to go out and play. I don’t expect him to do anything other than improve his body and get healthy as fast as he can. I’m preparing as if we were playing with the team we have.”
Said Nash: “Internally, we’re not sitting here saying that Ben will be back in this series. We’ll see what happens.”
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that the Nets and the 6-foot-11 Simmons were hoping for a comeback as early as Game 4 of the best-of-seven series. Athletic’s Shams Charania also reported on Thursday a similar timelinebacktracking slightly on his earlier report that Simmons could be back for Game 3 of the series.
But Nash said Simmons, a three-time All-Star who came over from the 76ers in the James Harden trade in February but has yet to play a game for the Nets, is still doing individual work while rehabbing an L-4 hernia in his back. who required an epidural injection on March 15. He hasn’t increased his activity in recent days, though the 25-year-old Simmons is watching videos with the team and attending practices. He hasn’t started running or sprinting yet.
“It’s up to Ben, Ben’s back. It’s not up to me or any of us. There’s a chance Ben will come back, there’s a chance he won’t come back,” Nash said. “For us, we have to focus on the group, support Ben on his journey to get back on the pitch, but at the same time we don’t have time to lose focus on the group he’s playing.
“Ben is a cornerstone of the franchise, but right now it’s about supporting him physically and mentally to get him back on the court, and coaching this group to be at their best for the first few games of the series at least.” .
That said, Nash wouldn’t hesitate to use him at some point if Simmons and the training staff feel he’s physically ready. The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Simmons hasn’t played in a game since the 76ers were eliminated from the postseason last June. He requested a trade after that departure and mostly stayed away from the team until he was moved.
“He’s a super talented player,” Nash said. “I think we should give [it] a chance if he was healthy enough to play.”
Nash has allowed himself to dream of what the Nets would look like with the versatile Simmons in the lineup, bringing more size, defensive ability and playmaking to his star-studded group. But he also believes that it is not necessarily close to happening.
“When we did the trade, everyone envisioned how Ben could fit into our group, but I’m not sitting here expecting him to come back at any point,” Nash said. “When he’s ready and he comes back, it’ll be great.”
When exactly that happens remains uncertain.