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Ben Simmons, the Nets and the known unknowns

Detroit Pistons v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Back in 2002, at the beginning of the Iraq War, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of WMD to terrorist groups.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know we don’t know.”

The Ben Simmons saga is not as momentous and basketball is a game not a war, but the vibes around the HSS Training Center Thursday were very Rumsfeldian. After yet another report, this one from Brian WIndhorst of ESPN, that Simmons will likely play in the first round vs. Boston, Steve Nash and Kevin Durant were both circumspect.

“It’s up to Ben — Ben’s back. It’s not up to me or any of us. There’s a chance Ben comes back, there’s a chance he doesn’t come back,” Nash told writers gathered at HSS Training Center. “For us, we got to focus on the group, support Ben in his journey to get back on the floor, but at the same time we don’t have time to lose focus on the group that’s playing.

“Ben’s a franchise cornerstone, but right now it’s about supporting him physically and mentally to get back on the floor, and coaching this group to put its best foot forward in the first few games of the series at least.

“Internally, we’re not sitting here saying Ben’s returning in this series. We’ll see what happens.”

Kevin Durant was even more skeptical.

“No, I’m not expecting him to play,” Durant said after practice. “That’s easier for me. I’m not putting any pressure on Ben to come out and hoop. I’m not expecting him to do anything except get his body right and get healthy as fast as he can. I’m preparing as if we’re playing with the team we have.”

Note the lack of denials.

It was all in reaction to Windhorst’s report. Windhorst as recently as a few days ago dismissed the possibility of a Simmons return. But now, he said on ESPN’s Get Up, things have changed.

“I am told that Ben Simmons is targeting Game 4, 5 or 6 for his Brooklyn Nets debut,” said the veteran ESPN writer. “I gotta say I was taken aback when told that information and my response was, ‘is he even playing 5-on-5 yet? The answer to that was no but that the hope is by the end of the week he’d ramp up to that. So there’s still some time. We’re still talking about over seven days. It’s a big ask but I have to say for seven, eight weeks now I’ve heard nothing but pessimism on the Ben Simmons front, and that has switched dramatically in the last few days,”

Two days ago, Shams Charania had an even more optimistic take.

“I think Games 1 and 2 is too quick but after that I’d look for Ben Simmons to be back,” said Shams in discussing the situation on Pat McAfee’s podcast.

Also Thursday, Ian Begley of SNY reported, “As long as he’s on the court every day, there’s (optimism),” the source said, adding that if Simmons suffers no setbacks in workouts, he could return during the Nets-Celtics series.

Nash did give an update on Simmons that basically reiterated what he’s been saying of late: there has been progress but no practice. He is still doing individual work but has not ramped up his activity in recent days. The 25-year-old is watching film with the team and is attending practices, doing walk-throughs. Still, he hasn’t begun sprinting or running at full speed, Nash said.

Maybe it’s all gamesmanship, an attempt by Nash and KD to lower expectations, sow confusion and uncertainty among the Bostons. Goran Dragic told reporters that IF Simmons does play, there will not only be improvements on the court, but a big emotional lift off it.

“I feel good emotions because you get one extra body,” Dragic said. “And with his skills, what he can bring to the table is unique. He can switch 1 through 5. He’s a great defender. So we all know he can push the pace, he’s a great passer, so it’s another kind of facilitator

“You get a big body too for offensive and defensive rebounding ... that will definitely help when you have KD out, [Andre] Drummond and then Ben. That’s a big lineup.”

Nash too admitted that Simmons can bring a lot, a lot the Nets and their fans have anticipated since the February 10 blockbuster trade with Philly.

“[W]hen we made the trade I think everyone imagined how Ben could fit into our group,” said the head coach. “But I’m not, like, sitting here expecting him back at any moment. It’s when he’s ready and he’s back, it will be great. But in the meantime, we got to coach the group and make sure that we give ourselves a chance to compete even without him.”

So we wait. We know how to do that.