NEW YORK — As the speculation surrounding Ben Simmons‘ potential debut for the Brooklyn Nets continues to be a talking point inside the NBA, Nets star Kevin Durant admitted Thursday that he is preparing as if Simmons won’t return as the Nets get ready for their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup with the Boston Celtics.
“I’m not expecting him to play,” Durant said after practice Thursday. “That’s easier for me. I’m not putting any pressure on Ben to come out there and hoop. So I’m not expecting him to do anything but just to get his body right and get healthy as fast as he can. So in my mind, I’m preparing as if we’re playing with the team we have.”
Simmons, who was acquired by the Nets just before the February trade deadline from the Philadelphia 76ers, has not played in an NBA game in almost a year after requesting a trade from the Sixers last season, citing mental health concerns. Simmons has been dealing with some back soreness since late February and has not been cleared to participate in a practice since coming to Brooklyn. Nets coach Steve Nash said Thursday that Simmons still isn’t doing any “basketball conditioning” and continues to do individual rehab work.
“It’s up to Ben’s back,” Nash said. “It’s not up to me, any of us, other than his back — and how we can help that resolve, great. There’s a chance Ben comes back, there’s a chance he doesn’t come back. So I think for us we got to focus on the group; support Ben and his journey to get back on the floor, but at the same time we don’t have time to lose focus on the group that’s playing.
“Ben’s a franchise cornerstone — but right now it’s about supporting him physically and mentally to get back on the floor and coaching the group to put its best foot forward in the first few games of the series at least. Internally, we’re not sitting here saying ‘Ben’s returning in this series.’ We’ll see what happens.”
For his part, Durant said he won’t even allow his mind to think about whether Simmons will return in the postseason.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Durant said of a potential emotional lift from Simmons’ return. “We all know what type of player Ben is. And you can put together scenarios in your mind on your own on what it would look like, but I’m not going to go there because we’re just taking it a day at a time.”
Nash said recently that he would have no issues with Simmons making his Nets debut in a playoff game, even though he hadn’t played in almost a year. When asked why he was so confident in that scenario given that it had been such a long time since Simmons played in an NBA game, Nash’s answer was simple.
“He’s a super talented player,” Nash said. “I think we’d have to give him a chance if he was healthy to play.”
Veteran point guard Goran Dragic said Thursday that Simmons’ debut, whenever it might come, would provide a lift to a Nets group that has dealt with injuries and a variety of issues all season.
“I feel good emotions because you get one extra body,” Dragic said. “And with his skills, what he can bring to the table is unique. He can switch 1 through 5. He’s a great defender. So we all know he can push the pace, he’s a great passer, so it’s another kind of facilitator
“You get a big body too for offensive and defensive rebounding … that will definitely help when you have KD out, [Andre] Drummond and then Ben. That’s a big lineup.”
Nash said “of course” he has thought about the possibilities of having Simmons in the lineup, “but not like tomorrow.”
“For whenever he’s back,” Nash said. “So of course, when we made the trade I think everyone imagined how Ben could fit into our group. But I’m not, like, sitting here expecting him back at any moment. It’s when he’s ready and he’s back, it will be great. But in the meantime, we got to coach the group and make sure that we give ourselves a chance to compete even without him.”