Steve Nash said he’s disappointed Ben Simmons won’t get to play in the Nets’ do-or-die Game 4 Monday night, but not disappointed in the three-time All-Star.
Simmons had said he expected to play in this first-round series against Boston, and the Nets are facing elimination Monday night down 0-3. But with Simmons ruled out Sunday night, Nash insists he never had any real expectations of the 25-year-old playing, and claimed those reports from ESPN and The Athletic were outside chatter and white noise.
“I mean, I wasn’t really expecting him to play. Like we’ve said all along, he’s trying to improve, he’s working through it. Reports that he was playing were from the outside, I don’t know where that came from,” Nash said. “So we kind of stick to what we’ve always said; he’s still building himself up, still working through things, still trying to get strong enough and put himself in a position to play.”
Simmons hasn’t played all season. He sat out with the 76ers citing mental health issues, and then after arriving in a Feb. 10 trade, he suffered a back injury while ramping up to make his Brooklyn debut.
Suffering from a herniated L-4 disk in his lower back, Simmons had been in a race against time.
Dr. Rahul Shah, a board certified orthopedic spine and neck surgeon, told The Post Simmons was almost certain to miss the rest of the season. And a source close to Simmons acknowledged to The Post, “It’s just a timing thing. The problem is the season is running out.”
Brooklyn’s season could run out altogether with a loss Monday to the Celtics.
After Simmons got an epidural in mid-March, he made marked improvement over the last three weeks. But after having pain-free contact workouts last Monday, Wednesday and Saturday – giving rise to reports that he’d debut in Game 4 – he told the Nets on Sunday that his back was now sore again.
Nash was vague on terming it a setback.
“I guess. I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure setback’s the right word; I don’t know what we’re calling it. He’s still trying to strengthen and put himself in a position to play,” Nash said. “He could feel great today, he could feel poor tomorrow. I just think that’s the landscape we’re in with his back is that he’s made progress but day-to-day some days are better than others.”
Brooklyn has yet to rule Simmons out for Wednesday’s Game 5 in Boston, should they win and extend the series.
“I don’t know,” Nash said. “It’s the same as what I told you [Sunday]; See how he progresses and see if there’s an opportunity for him to play at some point in the series if we go on. So I really don’t have an update that’s different from prior days”
Simmons isn’t scheduled for another MRI, and both Nash and a source close to the player said he should avoid needing offseason surgery. But unless he makes a rapid recovery and the Nets stave off the sweep – neither of which are guaranteed – they’ll face the disappointment not only of an early exit but having never getting Simmons on the floor this season with his teammates.
“Yeah, I’d be very careful that disappointed doesn’t get taken out of context. Of course, we’re all disappointed,” Nash said. “We’d love to see Ben on the floor with our teammates, but I don’t want it to be taken that I’m disappointed in Ben or anything like that. No.
“His back is his back, and we’ve got to work through this and he’s got to continue to fight as all guys do when they’re returning to play. But yeah, of course, we’d love to see Ben with our guys.”