Thursday, December 08, 2022

Steve Nash says Ben Simmons’ MRI revealed back injury ‘weeks ago,’ offers no clarity on return timeline

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After receiving an epidural to help alleviate pain and tightness in his lower back, Nets star forward Ben Simmons is further from returning to the floor now than he was two weeks ago.

Simmons, the 25-year-old All-Star forward who arrived in Brooklyn from Philadelphia via the James Harden trade, has regressed from just doing individual work at team practices and is not practicing at all, Nets head coach Steve Nash said on Friday.

The regression happened after Simmons had what Nash has called “a flare-up” in his lower back, a situation that has grown more serious than Nash and the Nets had let on earlier this season.

Nash once said he was hopeful he’d see Simmons play in the regular season, but with only a few weeks until the playoffs begin, the Nets might be lucky if he’s on the floor for the sudden-death play-in tournament.

“He’s done some individual workouts, then he had the flareup, so that’s the next step,” Nash said ahead of tipoff against the Trail Blazers on Friday. “That’s a step he hasn’t gone back to yet, his individual workouts.”

Friday afternoon marked the first time Nash said Simmons underwent an MRI, and it marked the first time Nash categorized Simmons’ back issue as an injury – not as tightness or soreness, the interchangeable company lines since the Australian star first started missing games.

Those details were fished from Nash, who wasn’t pleased with the relentless line of questioning on Simmons’ status.

“I believe he has (gotten an MRI), but I think that’s old news,” Nash said in his first time announcing said MRI to the media. “I’m not sure that it’s–that was a couple weeks ago.”

When asked whether Simmons’ MRI came back clean, Nash responded, “What does clean mean?” “I think he’s got a back … something with his back.”

And when pressed by a reporter on whether Simmons’ MRI revealed “a strain, or something like that,” Nash responded: “Yeah.”

That was the only straightforward answer Nash gave in one of the most jarring press conferences of an already bizarre Nets season.

Nash had no feedback on Simmons’ progress after receiving the epidural on Tuesday (“I don’t have any update on that.”) and had no set of benchmarks Simmons needs to hit to return to practice.

“That’s really a question for the medical staff,” he said. “I don’t know the ins and outs of his back injury. I couldn’t speak on it with a great level of education and security right now.”

The lowest point of Nash’s press conference was the finale, when a reporter asked Nash if there were any signs Simmons had a back injury when he first arrived in Brooklyn after the trade.

“I can’t remember now,” he said, exactly 36 days after the deal. “What happened after the deal? We were on the road, I think. Yeah, I can’t remember where he was at when he got here.”

When the reporter asked this question again, Nash claimed ignorance.

“I can’t remember (what the state of his back was at the time),” he said. “What was that, a month ago? I can’t remember if he was having issues or if it flared up, but yeah, he hasn’t practiced yet for us.”

Meanwhile, Friday’s matchup against the Trail Blazers marks Game No. 70 of 82, meaning just 12 more games until the play-in tournament, of which Kyrie Irving (unvaccinated) is only available for three.

Nash has no substantive update on Simmons’, and it remains increasingly unclear whether the playmaker and All-NBA defender will suit up in a Nets jersey this season. Regardless of Simmons’ availability, the goal in Brooklyn remains the same: to build chemistry on a roster that has seen 39 different starting lineups this season.

“I think we just focus on who’s available right now,” Nash said. “Whenever Ben’s available, we’ll be very excited and we’ll get to work on trying to find cohesion, but right now we’ve just got to focus on the games in front of us and who is available and trying to manage the current squad.

“It’s an important part of the season for us still trying to stay in a decent place seeding wise but also get better and put ourselves in a better position with hopefully some more health to play at a high level. We’ve talked about it before — our runway is short here so we’ve got to take advantage of those days.”

When Simmons returns, that will likely mark starting lineup No. 40. Will the Nets be able to find the cohesion needed to compete for a championship integrating Simmons into the rotation so late?

Nash’s guess is just as good as anyone else’s. He doesn’t know and can’t remember.


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