Steve Nash was not amused. Not by the questions he got about the status of Ben Simmons back in pre-game. Not by the performance of his team during the Nets win over the Blazers. Stern-faced and perturbed was the order of the day.
At least they won. Other than that, it was not a good day for the Nets head coach.
Pre-game, he seemed tired of the questions regarding Simmons which of course have been driven by the lack of real information on the three-time All-Star, two-time All-Defense, one-time All-NBA superstar the Nets acquired in the trade deadline blockbuster. Everyone wants to know what’s going on.
It started with questions about the epidural Simmons received in New York while the team was in Orlando earlier in the week. Was he feeling any better?
“I don’t have any update on that,” Nash said.
Their curiosity peaked, reporters followed up.
Has he had an MRI on his back?
“I believe he has, but I think that’s old news,” Nash said. “That was a couple weeks ago.”
“Old news?” Wait a minute! Did we know about that before? So did it come back clean?
“What does ‘clean’ mean?” Nash asked, somewhat rhetorically. “I think he’s got a back … something with his back.”
You mean a strain, coach?
“Yeah,” Nash said of an injury that has been previously described as “soreness” or “stiffness.”
Nash then summed things up when he was asked about what it might take to get the 25-year-old back on the court.
“That’s really a question for the medical staff. I don’t know the ins and outs of his back injury.”
Nash even said he couldn’t remember how Simmons felt when he arrived from Philly.
It’s been that way for a while now. The Nets, in their customary reluctance to reveal any “state secrets,” have not provided much in the way of details on Simmons. Sean Marks talked a bit about the “unfortunate” turn of events following the trade on March 3, but his tentative timetable appears to have come undone since then.
Most of the information about Simmons situation has come in dispatches — tweets and stories — from the likes of Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne and Shams Charania. They’re reported that 1) Simmons specific condition is an irritation of the L-4 disc in his lower back and 2) he may make it back at the end of the regular season or in the post-season. (According to sources, the reports are coming not from the HSS Training Center but from Simmons team wanting to counter a narrative that he just didn’t want to play.)
But those exchanges were nothing compared to Nash’s post-game comments. His Nets barely beat an injury-devastated team that has been playing arguably the worst basketball in the NBA the last several weeks. The usually upbeat Hall of Famer was unsmiling even as he walked off the court following the 128-123 win. Then in the media availability, he was critical of his team’s performance that saw them go down by 18 in the third ... at home.
“We didn’t come to play,” Nash said summing things up, noting that he had warned his team in practice Thursday that facing the Blazers was a “trap game” and that if they didn’t take things seriously, they could lose.
“I thought we wanted it easy. We wanted to solve the puzzle with the snap of our fingers instead of playing it,” said Nash, focusing on the team’s 21 turnovers. “Part of it is defensively, we weren’t locked in. Part of it is also offensively, not going the extra mile: to play with pace, make hard cuts, set good screens, move the ball, drive it, kick it, drive it again, touch the paint, spray it out. We wanted it easy and we wanted it quick.”
With the Nets down at halftime, Nash admitted he was “upset” when talking to his charges.
“Halftime, I was a little upset. We didn’t come to play, and we really played one half tonight. We’re just lucky it was enough to win the game,” a visibly disappointed Nash said.
Nash did have some warm words for Seth Curry and Bruce Brown but the tenor of his comments was frustration just short of anger. Very un-Nash like. No equanimity tonight!
Frustration and anger, of course, are not unfamiliar to the Nets fan base. Increasingly, fans complain on various forums about the lack of transparency, particularly about injuries, and a lack of urgency, too, at times. Not to mention the Kyrie Irving situation which is both frustrating as well as polarizing.
At this point, of course, it all comes down to W’s ... for everyone involved. It’s unlikely that the Nets will open up more on injuries. Their emphasis on player empowerment extends to not talking much about the details of players’ health issues (remember Nic Claxton’s debilitating but undisclosed illness?) And Nash, as head coach, is the only guy reporters get a chance to talk with on a regular basis. So was last night just an accumulation of things in a deeply disappointing season or is there something specific bothering him? Maybe, we’ll find out. Maybe we won’t.