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Ben Simmons wasn’t ready for full team work on Saturday, as the Nets had initially anticipated. And it sounds as if it could be a while until he is.
While Nets general manager Sean Marks said on March 3 he hoped his prized new acquisition could be taking part in team activities by the end of this week, The Post reported Thursday that Simmons wasn’t going to practice fully Saturday. And apparently he’s not a single step away, but several.
“He’s not ready for even one-on-one, let alone three-on-three, five-on-five,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “So he’s got to get to a place where he can go full speed unopposed, one-on-oh, and then we’ll talk about and hopefully quickly he can go to one-on-one, three-on-three, five-on-five.”
It’s a fairly stark prognosis for Simmons, who is rapidly running out of time to get in sync with his new team.
Even once he has cleared all of those hurdles, the Nets’ performance team usually demands players make it through three high-intensity workouts without incident before clearing them to play. While March 18 against the Trail Blazers or three days later versus the Jazz once seemed viable goals for a Simmons season debut, now one wonders if he’ll even be practicing fully by then, or playing by the end of the month.
Simmons hasn’t played an NBA game since the 76ers’ playoff exit last June. He had been holding out this season, citing mental health issues, and has been ramping up with the Nets since they acquired him in the deadline-day deal of James Harden.
That ramping up hit a road bump when Simmons’ back tightened up, which has delayed him getting full clearance to practice from the Nets’ performance team.
“Yeah, a little setback, whatever that was,” Nash said. “So now we’re just trying to make sure we get that in the bag before we rush him out there and suffer a longer setback.”
Simmons was limited to just a little bit of shooting, ball handling and light cutting during Saturday’s practice. He was getting treatment and being worked on by training staff during the part of practice that was open to the media.
It’s not the first time Simmons has suffered a setback with his back.
He had missed eight straight games and was receiving daily treatment for nerve issues in his lower back when the 2019-20 season was interrupted by COVID-19. The next season, he suffered nerve impingement in his lower back during a Feb. 22 game at Milwaukee. Brett Brown, then the 76ers coach, recalled that Simmons was vomiting from the back pain.
Simmons had another flare-up afterward during his falling out with the 76ers, and now another during his ramp-up since the Feb. 10 trade to Brooklyn. It raises the question of whether it’s fair to classify Simmons as having a bad back.
“I don’t want to classify it the wrong way, but he’s had back issues at times. So I don’t want to say he’s got a bad back, I don’t know if that’s fair,” Nash said. “He’s had a flare-up of something, but was really healthy for the last six months until the flare-up. So I don’t want it to be … I’m not sure that it’s fair for me to say he has a back problem. It’s just right now he has a flared-up back.”
Sparing that back from multiple plane flights was cited by the Nets as the reason Simmons didn’t travel with the team to Boston and Charlotte, but simply drove to meet them for the game Thursday in Philadelphia. Fellow Aussie Patty Mills said getting that return out of the way may have been cathartic for Simmons.
“Yeah, good. There was probably a lot of maybe weight off the shoulder just to be able to, for him, face it. And he handled it really, really well. He embraced it,” Mills said. “Obviously not playing, but still he had a lot of people that he was the focus of in the arena that night. But now that it’s over with he can focus on himself and getting him ready, getting him back with the team on the floor. He’s that last little piece to our team that will be a hell of a team once he does get on the floor.”