Simmons says back improving, but too early to target Nets return

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NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets forward Ben Simmons admitted Friday night that the lower back nerve impingement that’s sidelined him for nearly two months has him as frustrated as he’s ever been.

“It’s probably one of the most frustrating points in my career just because I wanna be out there to help my team win and compete,” he said before Brooklyn took on the defending champion Denver Nuggets at Barclays Center. “But at the end of the day, it’s one of those things that’s a part of sports. Not every game’s promised. Injuries happen. Unfortunately, it happens. So, for me, it’s just focusing on what I can do now and doing what I can to get back on the floor and contribute.”

Simmons has missed 21 straight games since suffering the injury against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 6.

He played the rest of the Bucks game with the injury, which was initially deemed a hip issue. But an MRI a few days later revealed the nerve impingement, the same issue that ended his 2022-23 season early.

Since then, progress has been slow. The Nets said earlier this week that Simmons has “further increased” his individual work and his progress would be updated again in two weeks, meaning he’ll be out until at least early January.

Asked specifically what he’s been doing, Simmons said, “I just started on-court stuff, moving around, get some shots up. So just starting from the bottom and work my way up.”

Simmons missed the majority of the past two seasons, first while looking for a trade out of Philadelphia and then while dealing with various back issues. Across the six games he played at the start of this season, he averaged 6.5 points, a career-high 10.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists, all while starting and playing his preferred position of point guard.

However, he remained far less aggressive offensively than he was in the first four seasons in Philadelphia, when he was named NBA Rookie of the Year (2018), made three All-Star teams (2019 to 2021) and was a third-team All-NBA selection (2020). In each of those four seasons, Simmons shot at least 10 times per game and never averaged less than four free throws. In his six games this season, he averaged six shot attempts and only attempted four free throws overall, making one.

Still, Simmons said he saw positive signs in his play and believed he was getting closer to returning to his earlier form.

“For sure. And I think this is just another step towards that,” Simmons said. “For me, my mentality, I come in every day and try to get better. I try to get myself back on the floor. I’ve got time left and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”

Exactly when is anyone’s guess.

Simmons was asked several times for a timeline on his possible return and declined every time. He noted that back injuries are far more complicated than sprained ankles or other bone injuries that come with more defined recovery times.

“I have no expectations,” Simmons said of a specific return date. “I just come in every day and work. I think that’s one of the things about having injuries like this. I’ve known not to put too much pressure on the exact date or whatever it is. It’s just continue to get better and get to a point where you can play.”

In the meantime, Simmons will attempt to increase his workload, get back on the court and resume his efforts to return to some facsimile of the player he was during his All-Star years in Philadelphia.

“For me, the recovery process is … I mean, it’s never fun,” he said. “But it’s one of those things that I’ve just been locked into since having this injury and then every day, just trying to get better, get back on the floor.”



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