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Will Ben Simmons chronic back issues keep him out for season?

Brooklyn Nets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Nets fans started to get nervous about Ben Simmons ramp-up when back on February 28, Shams Charania said the Nets were hopeful and optimistic he’d be back by the playoffs!

Then, a couple of days after that, Brian Windhorst reported that Rich Paul, Simmons agent, had told him that the LSU product was week-to-week rather than day-to-day

Before that, the issue was seen as re-conditioning after his long holdout in Philly, but then came word that he had had a setback related to his back. Finally, on March 3, Sean Marks spoke to Michael Grady of the YES Network about what had happened.

“Unfortunately, his back stiffness has delayed his ability to get on the court with his teammates. So he’s been rehabbing these last sort of week to 10 days. Now, he’ll progress throughout this week with some individual workouts. Hopefully, by the end of next week, he’s getting more into the team environment and then we can really ramp-up and start him getting into game shape and so forth.”

More recently, Steve Nash put the kabosh on any hopes of a quick return. He told reporters on Saturday that the 6’11” Simmons is nowhere near his debut in black-and-white.

“He’s not ready for even one-on-one, 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-oh, and then we’ll talk about and hopefully quickly he can go to one-on-one, three-on-three, five-on-five.”

Now, Brian Lewis of the Post writes that orthopedists he’s spoken to are not optimistic that Simmons will even return this season. The orthopedists are not familiar with the specifics of Simmons issues, but see a pattern ... and note Simmons history of back issues.

“I don’t think that’s happening. I think the odds are against it. Think about it this way: The longer he’s been out, the longer he’s likely to stay out. Until you fundamentally change the underlying problem,” said Dr. Rahul Shah, a board certified orthopedic spine & neck surgeon who formerly was a team doctor for the Magic.

“I don’t think he’s coming back [this season]. I don’t think that you have anything to say that he will convincingly. He’s got to do the running in the sprinting before he can do one-on-one or five-on-five.”

Shah wouldn’t rule out off-season surgery.

“What do I think is going to happen? Season ends, media goes quiet, he takes care of whatever he needs to. And then he’s rehabbing, and he comes back: ‘Oh yeah, he had a minor procedure done on his back.’ That’s what I think is going to happen. That might be a shot, and most likely it’ll be a procedure following the shot.”

Another orthopedist, Dr. Armin Tehrany, was only slightly more optimistic, believing he might be ready by the post-season which starts April 12 with the play-in tournament. Dr. Tehrany who is also board certified and teaches at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, is described by Lewis as having worked alongside team physicians for the Jets, Rangers and Islanders.

“Oh yeah. Yes, I definitely can see that. The thing with back injuries is they can become chronic and difficult,” said Tehrany, who thought it feasible that Simmons could return to practice in time to suit up for the play-in or playoffs. “Yes, I think that’s fair.”

Lewis also discusses Simmons history of back issues. This, he noted, is Simmons fourth flare-up over the last two years.

Simmons had missed eight straight games and was getting daily treatment for nerve issues in his lower back when the 2019-20 campaign was halted by COVID-19. The next season, he suffered nerve impingement in his lower back, vomiting from the pain according to then-76ers coach Brett Brown.

There was another flare-up this season in Philadelphia and now another during his ramp-up with the Nets. But his new team has been customarily tight-lipped, leaving him off their last flights to spare his back but offering no timeline.

Simmons also has been seen using multiple seat and back cushions while on the bench for the Nets since the February 10 trade. How much of that is common practice and how much is customized for his issues is uncertain. Simmons, of course, is only 25 years old and the Nets have some of the country’s best orthopedists from the Hospital for Special Surgery on staff. The Nets were aware of his back issues when they traded for him. There is an exchange of medical records before any trade.

Short-term, though, it will be a waiting game with Simmons restricted.

“Just continue to rehab, continue to strengthen his back in all those areas and continue to progress moving forward,” Nash said of his training regimen this weekend. “Rehab and just strengthen his back, and continue to get more mobility and more dynamic movement every day.”

Tuesday morning, Nash added to his comments on Simmons, saying he has “extremely high hopes we’ll see him in the regular season.”

So, as we’ve done so often this season, we wait.