ORLANDO, Fla. — The regular season ends for the Nets on April 10. There are 13 games left after Tuesday night’s visit to face the Magic. The clock is ticking on whether Ben Simmons will make his Nets and season debut before the team heads into the postseason.
The odds seem against Simmons since he is still rehabbing a back injury and hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since last season’s playoffs.
But coach Steve Nash made one of his most optimistic statements on Tuesday when he was asked after morning shootaround about his level of hopefulness on whether Simmons will play for the Nets on or before April 10.
Nash said he has "extremely high hopes we’ll see him in the regular season."
It difficult to see where that optimism comes from since Simmons is not practicing right now.
"He’s just doing his rehab, you know?" Nash said. "Strengthening and more so doing that side of things rather than court work."
On Saturday, Nash said of Simmons: "He’s not ready for even one-on-one [practices], let alone three-on-three, five-on-five. So he’s got to get to a place where he can go full speed unopposed, one-on-one, and then we’ll talk about and hopefully quickly he can go to one-on-one, three-on-three, five-on-five."
Simmons was not with the Nets on Tuesday as they faced the Magic. Nash said the point guard has done well in integrating into the team structure while not traveling (except for his emotional return to Philadelphia last week).
"Traveling is the one caveat where sometimes you're weighing the cost benefit of him taking airplanes and buses," Nash said. "But when he’s with us, we want him and we need him at every meeting, at walk-throughs, every film session, whatever it may be, so he’s around the group. We'd love for him to travel to be with the team all the time, but we have to weigh that scenario, as well."
Nash said he expects Simmons — a defensive specialist who was the key return in the James Harden trade with the 76ers — to pick up the Nets’ system quickly if he does play this season.
"He's been in all our meetings," Nash said. "I think he has a pretty good understanding. Now, has his focus been on learning what we're doing? No, it's been on getting better now. We've had him around, we want him to learn. There's a lot going on when you're trying to desperately fight to get on the court. I don't expect him to be totally dialed in on what we’re doing. Part of that is also feel. Getting on with your teammates, seeing how it fits. I think it'll be a perfect fit for us. But some of that stuff is also getting out there, doing it, learning on the fly."
For that, Simmons will have to lean on his teammates, who have been doing their best to make him feel like one of the guys even though he isn’t ready to join them on the court.
"Our team’s all together — there’s no divide," James Johnson said. "We’re all together. Whatever Ben is going through or working through, I’m sure he knows he has our full support."
Notes & quotes: Seth Curry (ankle) and Cam Thomas (back) were not available against Orlando. Nash said there’s a chance one or both could play Wednesday against. Dallas . . . The league announced that the NBA draft will be held at Barclays Center on June 23.