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Nash: It’ll be up to Ben Simmons to say, ‘I’m ready’ as Monday emerges as return target

NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Although Steve Nash said the decision to have Ben Simmons suit up in the post-season will be a “collective decision,” Simmons himself will ultimately have to give the okay, the head coach told reporters Wednesday morning in Boston.

“There’s no other way than him to say, ‘I’m ready,’ especially after an absence this long,” Nash said at the TD Garden. “So whenever he is ready, it’s gonna have to be on him to say, ‘I feel comfortable,’ ‘I feel ready to go,’ ‘I want to play,’ ‘I want to contribute.’ We can’t push him places when you have been out this long. It’s gotta be something where he’s definitely comfortable and ready to play.”

Nash said it will be “a collective decision” presumably including the team’s performance staff as well as the front office and coaching staff up to a point, but it’ll be on Simmons to say yes. Once again, Nash will have to deal with a unique decision, with no precedents, just as he was with Kyrie Irving’s part-time status.

However, as Adrian Wojnarowski reported early Wednesday afternoon, it’s getting more and more likely that Simmons will make his debut in black-and-white Saturday in Brooklyn, Game 4 ... if not earlier.

“This has been a prolonged absence,” Nash said of the 10 months since Simmons last played. “So I think it’s more about they [Simmons and the performance staff] are in this together trying to find a resolution, a time for him to come back where he is safe to play and well enough to contribute.”

Before Game 2, Nash tried once again to tamp down expectations about a Simmons “imminent” return.

“That’s news to me. I don’t think we’re targeting any game. I think we’re trying to see how he develops, how he progresses, and this is something that since the recent history with the trade has not been straightforward,” said Nash.

“While it’s exciting to see him on the floor and to see him make progress, I don’t think any of us are saying it’s imminent. I think we’re gonna sit back and support him and see how far he gets, and if he’s able to play, that’d be great, but we haven’t penciled in anything, we haven’t made any conclusions yet. I think he’s got a long ways to go before he feels ready to play.”

The team expects pressure, particularly from it fanbase, to get Simmons back asap, but there will be no short-cutting said one league insider.

As for his progress, Nash said so far, so good. After a 4-on-4 workout on Monday, Simmons went through a 0-5 exercise Tuesday, essentially a team walkthrough, the more contact Wednesday morning.

“Ben’s doing well,” Nash said. “He’s gonna work out again today, see if he continues to improve, so he’s still progressing and moving forward.”

Nash who has very conservative in his assessments of Simmons told reporters that he thinks things are going in the right direction, that the Nets are familiarizing Simmons with game schemes.

“If he’s able to play at some point, having him kind of become as familiar as possible with what we’re doing, because things change from day-to-day,” he said. “You’re making adjustments, so having him be involved with all of that stuff, so if he is able to play at some point, he’s comfortable.”

Meanwhile, Simmons teammates had different takes on Simmons. Nic Claxton said Simmons is exhibiting some “swagger” in his step while Seth Curry said he hasn’t seen much of his teammate from Philadelphia who admittedly has spent most of his time off the court at HSS Training Center and in rehab.

“He’s coming along pretty good. He definite has a real good swagger about himself right now so I think the whole world really like to see him back out there and he would definitely help us out in a lot of ways,” said Claxton.

“I haven’t seen much,” said Curry. “I haven’t been following him around. [I’m] locked into what we’re doing. Whatever he’s doing, I haven’t really been in the gym to see it. I haven’t seen much.”

So when will he play? After Wednesday night’s game, they fly back to Brooklyn and practice on Friday ahead of Game 3 at home on Saturday. Sounds like decision time.

“I wouldn’t be able to say anything about that because I’m not even sure how he’s gonna get through these weeks,” Nash said after Tuesday’s practice. “We have to also consider it’s a nine-month absence, or whatever it is, so it’s not just like he had a six-week absence. I think it’s a pretty unique scenario and it’s not as linear as the other in-season injuries.”

Simmons, of course, hasn’t played in 10 month since Game 7 between the 76ers and Hawks a game which the Sixers lost and for which Simmons received a great deal of criticism including from teammate and co-star Joel Embiid. Simmons informed the 76ers he wanted out of the remainder of his contract, citing mental health issues. The Sixers traded Simmons to the Nets for James Harden on February 10.