Steve Nash said the Nets were not considering too heavily the risk of re-injury to Ben Simmons’ lower back. The head coach said the team was weighing whether the All-Star guard would be ready to play at all.
“If he’s ready to play that means there’s limited risk of injury,” Nash said after practice on Sunday. “There’s always a risk, so the two kind of go hand-in-hand, but I don’t think anyone is thinking of ‘that’s a huge risk.’ It’s ‘Is he available? Is he ready to play? Can he contribute?’”
Simmons has not played an NBA game in more than 10 months. He had an epidural in March to alleviate the pain caused by a herniated disc and only recently was able to start moving better.
Nash said the team (which likely means himself, the front office and the performance staff) has not discussed the possibility of re-injury much. Re-injury would make matters worse for the Nets, who face a 3-0 series deficit, which no team in NBA history has ever overcome.
If Simmons plays in the Nets’ Game 4 playoff matchup against the Boston Celtics on Monday, he’ll have played in two consecutive elimination games. Last season, his coach and 76ers teammates threw him under the bus following a poor performance in a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks — which calls into question whether it’s even fair to put Simmons on the floor in another elimination game with a new team.
“Part of the decision has to be Ben’s,” Nash said. “I think that he has to be all in… It’s not all on Ben. It’s not like, ‘Oh come on. He didn’t play.’ No, this is a unique situation. He’s never played with his teammates and to go into a playoff situation after a long period of inactivity and injury, it’s not straightforward.”
The Nets had until 5:30 p.m. Sunday to inform the league of Simmons’ status, which can still be updated on Monday in the hours before tip-off.
Bruce Brown said he has no idea whether Simmons will play. ”That’s above my pay grade,” he said.
And Seth Curry flashed a cheek-to-cheek grin when asked about Simmons’ status. “I don’t know,” Curry said. “It’s hard to say.”
Nash remained noncommittal.
“Ben is being evaluated by the performance team and then he’s just going to do today whatever’s appropriate on where he’s at today, so there’s no update,” he said. “I have no idea. I think it just really depends hour to hour on how he improves and where he’s at.”
If Simmons plays, whether or not he can contribute in a meaningful fashion remains to be seen. Since his arrival in Brooklyn via the Feb. 10 James Harden trade, Simmons has not practiced with any of the Nets’ regular rotation players.
So far, he has played in four-on-four with the Nets’ stay-ready group, which includes seven end-of-the-rotation players — the rookies and veterans who help injured players ramp-up their conditioning and re-acclimate to game speed.
Simmons can’t practice with Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving because the Nets’ two stars need rest in-between games after logging more than 42 minutes each in Game 3.
“Other guys are carrying injuries,” Nash said. “Bruce is now playing 40 minutes a night. So (with Ben), we walk-through, we rehearse, they do their shooting routines, lift weights, we watch a lot of film. That’s what it’s like at this end of the season in the NBA.”
So how is Simmons supposed to know his teammates or even the game plan when all he’s done is play four-on-four — not even five-on-five — with players who get no burn?
“You’d have to ask him and how he feels, what kind of rhythm he’s in basketball-wise,” said Curry, who was packaged with Simmons in the Harden deal, “but it could be (difficult) or he could go out there and have that energy and be fine.
“Hopefully he’s close to the Ben I’ve seen in the past,” Curry added. “A big, long body defensively, guards all five positions, hopefully provide some pace, rebounds and transition game, and some playmaking and physicality. Just everything he brings if he plays in whatever minutes he’s out there. Hopefully it’s a little boost of energy as well.”
Nash said if Simmons is available, he will likely extend his rotation but did not say when Simmons’ minutes limit will max-out. He also suggested he doesn’t know what to expect as far as Simmons’ level of understanding of both the offensive and defensive game plan.
“(He understands the game plan) as well as you can without getting a training camp in and playing with your teammates,” Nash said. “You can put it all down on paper, you can talk, until you’re out there feeling it, there’s only so much that you can really expect.”
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