There are just 11 basketball games to go for the Brooklyn Nets before the season ends, and as of today, they appear headed for the eighth seed prior to the Play-In. But by now, fans expected to have already gotten a look at Ben Simmons in the uniform.
Unfortunately, it sounds like they'll have to continue to wait. Earlier Monday, Shams Charania of The Athletic said Simmons is dealing with a herniated disc in his back. Simmons dealt with “nerve impingement” that first cost him games back in 2020, prior to the pandemic. Before the shorthanded Nets host the Utah Jazz, head coach Steve Nash provided the latest intel on the former first overall pick out of LSU.
Nash was asked if he can confirm the latest reports about the herniated disc. “Yeah, so that was, I think someone reported that today, so yeah that's why he got the epidural,” Nash confirmed.
A report by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne said the issue was with the L-4 disc.
ESPN reporting with @RamonaShelburne: Brooklyn Nets All-Star Ben Simmons has remained sidelined with an irritation of the L-4 disc of the lower spine and hope remains he can return for a “couple” of regular-season games prior to the Eastern Conference playoffs. Story soon.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 16, 2022
Nash was pressed for clarity on the timeline of the problem.
“Well he's had this a couple years ago,” Nash said, “so he's had throughout his career, at some points. And I guess there was a flare up, I'm not sure when they recognized it was beyond like a regular back flare up and a herniated disc or what not, but somewhere on the line there, that was the reason for the epidural.”
He received the epidural while the team was in Orlando. Simmons stayed back to avoid the plane rides and hotel beds that don't help an ailing back, and that's when received the shot designed to reduce pain.
Still, fans want to know if it's realistic to hope he'll play before the season is over or in the playoffs. To this point, Nash said they're still optimistic he can play at some point in the remaining regular season games.
“Yeah, I don't think it changes the outcome necessarily, we still have high hopes that he can come back,” Nash said. “He's had moments during his rehab where he's on the court doing some things, and it looks like he's about to turn a corner and then there's a little setback so I still feel optimistic that he can play for us.”
Simmons has not played since June 20th, 2021, when the Sixers were eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks during the 2021 Eastern Conference Semi finals.
“I've had the same issues,” Nash shared, per Nick Friedell of ESPN. “But I think with backs, they're all really unique and different. So it's really hard to like, for me to kind of share my experiences with it because my back was totally different. You just never know, you never know how he responds, he could feel great and turn a corner in the next week or so, or it could be a longer-term thing so we just have to be patient and see how he goes.”
Is this just a head coach being overly optimistic or could Simmons really turn a corner in a week or two? Time is, of course, of the essence. Would the team decide at some point that it's “too late” to bring back a player that may not be as seamless of a fit as say, Seth Curry? Might they at some point as a team decide the combination of injury setback risk plus whatever learning curve there was to incorporate a forward who doesn't shoot is simply too much to burden Kevin Durant with?
“I don't know, I don't think so. I think if he's able to get back to playing, I think we'd want to incorporate him at any point,” Nash added.
That makes sense. It's not like Kevin Durant would have to get used to totally different spacing. He's been playing with two non-floor spacers like Andre Drummond and Bruce Brown, or Nic Claxton and James Johnson for weeks now. Replacing one of them with Simmons might not dramatically alter the composition of the Nets' offense if Simmons ever made it back.
Nash talked about if the epidural provided intended relief: “I do think that, if I'm not speaking out of turn, there was some relief, but I don't know how much or if it's total success or how long it takes for that to be called a success. That's just one layer, if I'm not mistaken, to relieve the symptoms as much as anything.”
It sounds like Nash is saying he's no expert, but an epidural is palliative care and alleviates symptoms without necessarily fixing the root cause. But hopefully, if it stops the pattern of inflammation, tightness and pain, the surrounding area can relax and healing can begin. Maybe that's the theory at least.
The question remains if the disc herniated back in 2020 or only recently. Did the Nets, who have now done one or two MRIs on Simmons, have any reason to see this issue and worry back on February 9th? Did a herniated disc cause the nerve impingement a couple years ago? Was that L-4? What's the same and what's different from the initial issue?
It doesn't sound like Nash quite knows the specifics there. But what he says next about how hard Simmons was working out prior to the trade seems to diminish the idea they were acquiring a player limited by a herniated disc issue.
“From what I know, he trained pretty hard for five, six months. And was in a great place, unfortunately I think there was a little flare up, some point in there, and it's never quite turned the corner since,” Nash shared “But I think he had month of five, six days a week, on court and was doing very well. Just unfortunate but we stay the course. And hopefully have a good resolution to this in the near future. ”
What about surgery, has that been discussed? “Not by me, I don't think so,” Nash revealed.
We're getting down to the wire. If the Nets knew that Ben Simmons might not be able to play at all this year, one has to wonder if they would not have struck the same trade they did with the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Nets might have preferred to roll with James Harden. But based on the timeline the coach has shared, while they may have known of a history of a back issues dating back to 2020, they may not have seen this recent flare-up coming. But they are still hopeful he can suit up and help before it's too late.