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Nash: Didn’t expect Ben Simmons to play in Game 4, but thinks he could play if Nets extend series

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

It was a rough weekend and the Nets and Ben Simmons find themselves with a credibility issue this Monday morning, whether deserved in this case or not.

After all the ups and downs, all the competing leaks and the Nets imprecise language, their messaging that Simmons issue is recurring back pain has not been met well. Reggie Miller, Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Legler all went on the record criticizing Simmons for missing a big playoff game, ignoring the circumstances for whatever reason. So did Stephen A. Smith, calling the Simmons saga “pathetic.”

Others, particularly Brian Windhorst, have said that Simmons back issue appears to be very real and that while there is disappointment, there is also understanding of all those circumstances.

So, this morning, it was left to Steve Nash to answer questions about Simmons, the biggest issue in NetsWorld after the Nets stunning collapse so far in the first round ... and his own future.

“I mean, I wasn’t really expecting him to play. Like we’ve said all along, he’s trying to improve, he’s working through it. Reports that he was playing were from the outside, I don’t know where that came from,” Nash said. “So we kind of stick to what we’ve always said; he’s still building himself up, still working through things, still trying to get strong enough and put himself in a position to play.”

While Nash has said he had hope of a Simmons return, that’s different from optimism. In the midst of a media drumbeat in recent weeks he repeatedly said he was not sure that Simmons would play, noting the many hurdles he had to clear. Indeed, Nash had noted that while Simmons was participating in 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 practices, none had been with rotation players.

On Monday, he noted all those issues, but had trouble calling the soreness Simmons experienced was a “setback.”

“I guess. I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure setback’s the right word; I don’t know what we’re calling it. He’s still trying to strengthen and put himself in a position to play,” Nash said. “He could feel great today, he could feel poor tomorrow. I just think that’s the landscape we’re in with his back is that he’s made progress but day-to-day some days are better than others.”

And he did offer two positive notes, that Simmons could return to play (for the first time in 10 months) in Game 5 if the Nets avoid a sweep Monday night at Barclays Center.

“I don’t know,” Nash said. “It’s the same as what I told you [Sunday]; see how he progresses and see if there’s an opportunity for him to play at some point in the series if we go on. So I really don’t have an update that’s different from prior days.”

Brian Lewis reports that a source close to Simmons said he not anticipate Simmons, who has had a history of back problems, will need off-season surgery.

Nash noted that while there may be disappointment in the ranks at HSS Training Center (among other places), the Nets are not blaming Simmons.

“Yeah, I’d be very careful that disappointed doesn’t get taken out of context. Of course, we’re all disappointed,” Nash said. “We’d love to see Ben on the floor with our teammates, but I don’t want it to be taken that I’m disappointed in Ben or anything like that. No.

“His back is his back, and we’ve got to work through this and he’s got to continue to fight as all guys do when they’re returning to play. But yeah, of course, we’d love to see Ben with our guys.”

Later, in a series of tweets, Adrian Wojanarowski reported that the Nets GM and Simmons agent have had recent talks about how to deal with Simmons, noting that Simmons wants to play but that there are still physical and mental issues.

On Sunday, Woj told Mike Greenberg on ESPN’s Game Day that Simmons will “presumably” be back on court for next season.

Woj also wrote this for ESPN.com ...

Simmons reiterated what he’s consistently told team officials since his arrival from the Philadelphia 76ers on February 10: He wants to play and perform for the Nets as soon as possible, and still isn’t ruling out that happening this season should the Nets survive Monday’s elimination game against the Boston Celtics, sources said. Boston leads the best-of-seven series, 3-0.

The Nets made clear to Simmons and Paul that the organization plans to continue giving the three-time All-Star every resource necessary in the short and long-term, sources said.

Still later, Nash addressed Woj’s reporting and admitted that yes, there is a mental component for Simmons.

Expect a lot of questions about all this whenever Nash and Sean Marks hold their end-of-season press conference.