NEW YORK — While speculation about the possible debut of Ben Simmons with the Brooklyn Nets continues to be a topic of conversation within the NBA, the Nets star, Kevin Durantadmitted Thursday that he’s preparing as if Simmons won’t return as the Nets target their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup with the Boston Celtics.
“I don’t expect him to play,” Durant said after Thursday’s practice. “That’s easier for me. I’m not pressuring Ben to go out there and play. So I don’t expect him to do anything other than heal and get healthy as fast as he can. In my mind, I’m preparing like we’re playing with the team we have.”
Simmons, who was acquired by the Nets from the Philadelphia 76ers just before the trade deadline in February, hasn’t played in an NBA game in nearly a year after requesting a trade to the Sixers last season, citing problems. of mental health. Simmons has been dealing with some back pain since late February and hasn’t been cleared to participate in a practice since he arrived in Brooklyn. Nets coach Steve Nash said Thursday that Simmons still isn’t doing any “basketball conditioning” and continues to do individual rehab work.
“Depends on Ben’s back,” Nash said. “It’s not up to me, any of us, it’s his back, and how can we help that heal? There’s a chance Ben will come back, there’s a chance he won’t come back. So I think we have to focus on the group, support Ben and his way back on the court, but at the same time we don’t have time to lose focus on the group that is playing.
“Ben is a cornerstone of the franchise, but right now it’s about supporting him physically and mentally to get back on the court and coach the group to be at their best in the early games of the series at least. Internally, no. we’re saying ‘Ben is back in this series.’ We’ll see what happens.”
For his part, Durant said he won’t even allow his mind to turn to whether or not Simmons returns in the postseason.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” Durant said of a possible emotional boost with Simmons’ return. “We all know what kind of player Ben is. And you can play scenarios in your mind on your own about what he would look like, but I’m not going to do that because we’re taking it one day at a time.”
Nash recently said he would have no problem with Simmons making his Nets debut in a playoff game, even though he hadn’t played in nearly a year. When asked why he was so confident in that scenario given that it had been so long since Simmons played in an NBA game, Nash’s answer was simple.
“He’s a super talented player,” Nash said. “I think we would have to give him a chance if he was healthy enough to play.”
Nash said “of course,” about whether he has thought about having Simmons in the lineup, “but not tomorrow.”
“By the time I get back,” Nash said. “When we made the switch, I think everyone envisioned how Ben could fit into our group. But I’m not sitting here expecting him to come back any minute. It’ll be great when he’s ready and he comes back. But in the meantime, we have to train the group and make sure give us the opportunity to compete even without him.
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Durant, Nets prepare for Celtics without Simmons