Ben Simmons saga a microcosm of Nets whacky season

Ben Simmons
Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons, center, sits on the bench during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics.
AP Photo/John Minchillo

Ben Simmons was targeting Game 3 for a much-anticipated Nets and season debut. Then it was Game 4.

Now head coach Steve Nash is dousing water on those hopes. 

No, Simmons is definitely not playing in Game 4 Monday night against the Boston Celtics. No, now Simmons is out and dealing with pain in his back again. 

The flurry of information and headlines surrounding Simmons’ maybe, possible, definite, but not happening return to the court this series is enough to drive any fan of the Brooklyn Nets up a tree. But considering the way the season has gone in Kings County this season, it should be far from surprising that things have taken the turn that they did on Sunday evening when the Nets announced that Simmons was out for Game 4 on Monday. 

In fairness to Nash, he never said that Simmons was guaranteed to play and has chosen his words carefully when discussing the 25-year-old’s possible debut. Still, the whacky nature in which it all played out was a perfect summation of the Nets’ year. 

A roller coaster of emotions ending with hope and then massive disappointment. 

Brooklyn Nets forward Blake Griffin (2) and guard Ben Simmons (10) on the court before the start of the first round against the Boston Celtics for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden.David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

“Of course we’re disappointed. We’d love to see Ben on the floor with our teammates,” Nash said after shootaround on Wednesday. “But I don’t want it to be taken that I’m disappointed in Ben or anything like that. His back is his back and we gotta work through this and he’s gotta continue to fight as all guys do when they’re returning to play. 

“But of course, we’d love to see Ben with our guys.” 

Nash didn’t have any update on the possibility of Simmons playing in Game 5, if the series even got to that point. And as for playing in Game 4, Nash seemed unphased by the latest development. 

“I wasn’t really expecting him to play,” Nash said. “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.”

The confusing and almost chaotic at times nature of the situation played out in a similar fashion when the Nets traded for Simmons in the first place in February. The nearly daily reports that James Harden wanted out of Brooklyn and that a deal could be in the works dominated the Nets news cycle.

Nash’s constant comments that Harden would remain a Net past the deadline, only to have to walk it back after the trade was pulled off on Feb. 10, certainly added to the daily drama. 

Of course, Brooklyn’s on the court play hasn’t been spared from the chaos as the Nets navigated their way through the first quarter of the season without Kyrie Irving, then Joe Harris was injured in November and then COVID struck the team in December. 

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Even through all of that, the Nets managed to remain near the top of the Eastern Conference, only to see their positioning falter after Kevin Durant was hurt in January. The Nets would drop 11 straight games during Durant’s 21-game absence. 

Naturally, the latest development with Simmons seems to follow the trend as the Nets try to keep their season alive down 0-3 to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Simmons is said to have woken up with back soreness on Sunday, setting back the chance of him playing in the do-or-die game. 

“I think it’s unfortunate for him,” Nic Claxton said about the situation. “I know he probably wanted to be out there playing with us and to have a setback I know that sucks for us, and it sucks for him.”