It has now been nearly eight weeks since the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers completed their blockbuster deal on February 10. The deal sent James Harden and Paul Millsap to the Sixers in exchange for Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and future draft picks.
At the time of the trade, it was expected that the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year would be out for a brief time while conditioning before rounding out Brooklyn’s big three. However, his return timeline is looking less certain with news he is battling a herniated disc in his back.
Simmons, who was once expected to make his Nets debut on March 18, continues to face lingering back issues that have persisted since February 2020. Head coach Steve Nash said in March 16 press conference that the star received an epidural injection in an attempt to ease the pain. Which had Shams Charania of The Athletic reporting on The Pat McAfee Show that the star could return near the end of the season, the play-in tournament, or in the playoffs should Brooklyn advance.
While the March 24 report from Shams sounded hopeful, eight days later the Nets announced the news that Simmons will likely miss the rest of the regular season and play-in tournament. While Brooklyn has made no guarantees regarding the rest of the playoffs, there is certainly hope revolving around the Nets facilities.
However, one NBA insider disagrees with this “gleam of hope.”
‘The Reality Is He’s Not Coming Back’
On the March 23 “Basketball Illuminati” podcast, NBA insiders Amin Elhassan and Tom Haberstroh presented their take on the Ben Simmons situation.
“So this is my interesting take on this. Obviously, on a Nets season that’s had its fair amount of turmoil. Harden demanding a trade, Kevin Durant’s injury, Kyrie Irving not being able to play home games, what Simmons represents is that flame of hope,” Elhassan said. “If he can get out there, he’s a game-changer for us defensively. He can guard five positions, rebound, and really be something that we haven’t had in Brooklyn. Then offensively his playmaking skills, his transition effectiveness, all of these things conspire to take Brooklyn from an eight seed to perhaps the best team in the Eastern Conference regardless of where they’re seeded.”
“That’s the hope they want us to hold on to,” Elhassan continued. “But the reality is that he’s not coming back … and you’re just being a patsy if you’re believing that.”
In the last few weeks, several NBA players have been ruled out for the remainder of this season. Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Jonathan Isaac, Josh Giddey, Kemba Walker, and more have all been sidelined with season-ending injuries. However, while Simmons has not been listed these NBA insiders do not expect to see his return this season.
“Again, I think they know that he ain’t coming back,” said Elhassan. “But if you say that he is out for the year, number one you kind of throw cold water on the flame of hope that is your season being a championship one. Second of all, they understand that it will put some more pressure on him. That people will begin to ask if the Nets traded for damaged goods.”
The Hopeful Return
Whether or not Simmons can be considered “damaged goods” remains to be seen. Nash, is no stranger to back issues in Simmons. The second-year head coach told members of the media on March 25 that Simmons is “feeling a lot less pain.” Perhaps his experience lends to the Nets remaining hopeful for the return of their three-time All-Star. Or it’s possible that the Brooklyn Nets have known all along that Simmons won’t return this season as Elhassan suggests.
The two-time NBA All-Defensive First Team guard would be a major addition for the Nets in their postseason play. A Simmons return would make Brooklyn one of the most, if not the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference. Whether the reports coming from Brooklyn’s camp are just offering “a glimmer of hope” as Amin Elhassan speculated, or are true will be seen in the coming weeks. Expect each playoff-contending team to have a watchful eye on Brooklyn as it plays out.