Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons is likely to return the...

Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons is likely to return the Nets' lineup some time next week. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Ben Simmons gave fist pounds to several Barclays Center staff members as he walked out of the Nets’ locker room shortly after Thursday night’s loss to the Timberwolves.

It might be one of his last early departures. With his likely return next week, Simmons’ stint as a spectator is ending as the Nets prepare to resume life with their original starting point guard.

“It’d be great to have him back. Just having that back and around the group 24/7,” Nic Claxton said. “Everything he can do, passing, getting us out in transition, we can play faster, rebounding, defending. So we are definitely ready to have him back on the court with us.”

Simmons has missed 37 games since suffering a nerve impingement in his left lower back on Nov. 6. With the Nets losing 17 of their last 21 games, any boost is welcome. They are a half-game behind the Hawks for the final spot in the play-in tournament.

The Nets (17-27) were 3-3 with Simmons before he got hurt. Having him back will be a mental uplift for a team 10 games under .500 for the first time since Dec. 6, 2018.

“This is the ecosystem, and when pieces of the ecosystem are missing, then other areas are affected,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “It’s been the exact case for our group. So I’m looking forward to him being back on the floor.”

Besides his defense and ability to improve the Nets’ transition game, Simmons will ease the burden on Mikal Bridges and Cam Thomas dominating the ball. His facilitating will allow players such as Cam Johnson and Spencer Dinwiddie more catch-and-shoot opportunities.

However, he won’t instantly solve the problems on offense. The Nets aren’t missing threes because they’re contested. This month, they’re shooting a league-worst 33.2% on three-pointers classified as wide open.

More open shots created by Simmons means players have to make them. That’s on players such as Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith, who have struggled lately.

Simmons averaged 10.8 rebounds in six games and adds to a team that’s fifth in the NBA in rebounding. However, there’s still questions about how the Simmons/Claxton pairing will impact floor spacing, given that they played only one game together.

Simmons’ presence should add more stability on offense in late-game situations, but the Nets still have to execute better.

Simmons can’t fix every Nets issue, and there’s no guarantee he will remain healthy through the end of the season. He hasn’t played more than 58 games in a season since 2020-21 and can’t reach that number this season. But they’re counting on him to be another key tool in the toolbox, and that’s better than having him sidelined.

Instead of being a spectator, he’ll be part of the solution again.

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