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Dueling ‘Athletic’ reporters have different takes on Ben Simmons ramp-up

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Brian Lewis, via Twitter, March 25

Depending on where you are on the Ben Simmons optimism/pessimism spectrum, The Athletic will confirm your hope or despair.

At around 9:30 a.m. Friday, Joe Vardon of the website wrote this about the prospects of Simmons returning this season...

Ben Simmons is not close to playing for the Nets. He is not likely to be ready for the start of the playoffs, I was told Thursday, as he’s still trying to recover from a recurring back injury that required an injection last month.

This is about two different things: It’s about trading for a former All-Star, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate who is 6-foot-10, can run the floor, move the ball and doesn’t need to shoot, and maybe not having him at all.

Since his (epidural) injection, Simmons has been at practice more, even near the court (or on it) while teammates are out there, which has caused some teammates to voice their optimism. But he isn’t close to returning, let’s be clear.

Sad, but not unexpected news. After all as Steve Nash said recently, “Clearly, we’d love to have Ben play for us,” Nash said. “We will hopefully get him back. At the same time, every day, we can’t put our feet in the air because we don’t know when or if it’s going to happen.”

Then, just after 2:20 p.m., Vardon’s colleague, Shams Charania had an optimistic take, saying that Simmons has resumed “light on-court workouts.”

“Nets three-time All-Star Ben Simmons has resumed light on-court workouts, sources tell me” said Shams. “And the hope remains that he will be able to ramp-up in time for the playoffs. The Nets and Simmons have worked together on his back issues which flared up when he had previously aiming for a mid-March return. And now with the Nets jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference, a Simmons return makes the team’s ceiling even greater for a potentially deeper run.”

Still later, Alex Schiffer, who covers the Nets for The Athletic, wrote this...

The calendar continues to work against the Nets. And it’s not in their nature to bring him back unless the performance staff clears it. Just because he’s progressing and wants to get back out there and play even at less than full strength doesn’t mean the Nets will cut corners to appease him.

It may not be a complete contradiction. Everyone is leaving some wiggle room in their assessments and then, there’s the definition of “light on-court workouts.” When the Nets where in Miami last week, reporters caught a brief glimpse of Simmons with assistant coach Brian Keefe.

Two days ago, Andre Drummond and Seth Curry, both of whom came over with Simmons in the blockbuster trade with Philly on February 10, said that the two-time All-Defensive player was in good spirits but what you see in shootarounds is a good indication of where he’s at ... other than doing rehab work somewhere in the bowels of HSS Training Center.

“In terms of what he’s doing, none of us know,” Drummond told writers. “He’s the mystery guy. He comes in in sweats every day, and then God knows what he does after that. So hopefully he’s doing this recovery and he’s getting better each and every day. When we get him back, we get him back.”

Drummond added that while Simmons is in good spirits his workload is limited.

“You guys (have) seen him during the game, he’s doing it,” he said. “That’s as much as he’s done.”

Curry also spoke about Simmons’ good spirits.

“Seems like it, yeah,” said Curry who’s been Simmons teammate both in Philly and Brooklyn. “He keeps saying he wants to be out there as fast as possible, but he’s in a good space, being around the team and soaking up the knowledge and locking into film sessions and doing everything he can do.

“He’s moving around a little bit more. He looks good, he looks happy,” added Drummond.

Certainly, things have appeared to be improving. Two weeks ago, he got the epidural shot and a week ago, flew to Miami, his first flight with the team since shortly after he joined the club. Moreover, Michael Grady of the YES Network said the combination of the injection, rest and rehab therapy has helped with pain, now localized in his lower back rather than radiating down his legs.

The Nets have five games left in the regular season, then either one or two games, depending on where they finish, in the play-in tournament between now and April 15. Playoffs begin the next day. Considering the Nets normal return-to-play regimen, that doesn’t seem like a lot of time to go from 0-on-1 to 1-on-1 to 3-on-3 to 5-on-5 and three high intensity workouts. Still, Nash has said he would have no problem dropping Simmons into a playoff game without any regular season minutes.

Meanwhile, Marc Stein of The SteinLine writes that Simmons has re-upped his sneaker deal with Nike for three more years after flirting with New Balance, the shoe company close to his agent, Rich Paul. No word on how much Simmons will make under the deal.

Nike now has deals with Simmons, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, Kessler Edwards and LaMarcus Aldridge (Jordan Brand). Bruce Brown and Cam Thomas are with adidas and Seth Curry with Under Armour.