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Ben Simmons to begin rehab, Nets hopeful of ‘full recovery’ by training camp

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jacque Vaughn announced Tuesday that Ben Simmons is shut down, which wasn’t new, and that he’s begun rehabbing on his back, which is.

“Ben will not be joining us the rest of the year,” said Vaughn, adding that Simmons is beginning a rehab program on his back and is expected to make a “full recovery,”

“After consulting with our doctors, multiple specialists, he’s just gonna begin a rehab program. Our doctors and the specialists feel and think that he’ll have a full recovery, so that starts now,” he said.

When asked if there was a chance of second surgery. Vaughn said that’s not in the cards, at least currently.

“As recommended right now and by the doctors, that is not in sight. That’s the recommendation right now,” said the head coach.

Vaughn emphasized that the Nets — and their doctors — expect Simmons, 26, to be back at full strength by next season. And it was clear from Vaughn’s comments that the Nets are not interested in moving the three-time All-Star acquired in the James Harden trade a little more than a year ago.

“That’s our goal,” Vaughn said re Simmons return to form. “And overall you just think about, he’s 6’10”, athletic, what he can do and bring to our team, how he can help our group on both ends of the floor. We want to be involved in that. We want to see that. I want to coach Ben and I want to be able to push Ben to get back to all-defensive team and impact our team on both ends of the floor. So that’s definitely the goal going forward.”

Sean Marks, in speaking with ESPN, said the Nets will offer support to Simmons.

“Same thing we’ve done in the past, is support him,” Marks told ESPN. “This is a young man that has been through a very traumatic and pretty arduous last couple years here. And this is not news that he wants to hear. He didn’t want specialists telling him, ‘Hey look, here’s the best thing for you.’ The good news, they were in unison in their plan for a full recovery.

“I worked hard with these doctors, all the different specialists as well as Bernie Lee, his new agent, to come up with a plan that’s hopefully going to get him back, and back to being the Ben we’ve all seen.”

Simmons hasn’t played since mid-February, missing 17 straight games. For the season, he averaged career-lows of 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists. More importantly, he seemed to lack the explosiveness that had been a big part of his game.

Simmons had a microdiscectomy, a surgical procedure to repair the herniated L-4 disk, on May 5, 2022. Dr. Robert Watkins IV performed the surgery at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital in Los Angeles.

As Brian Lewis reported over the weekend, Simmons said in November that the timeline for a full recovery is normally 18 months.

“Yeah, it takes time to build, especially with having a nerve injury,” Simmons said then. “It takes 18 months for your nerves to fully heal. People don’t know that. But over time, you know, I get better and better. Just keep pushing.”

Lee, who began representing Simmons in recent weeks, told reporters that he, too, expects Simmons to ready for training camp.

“Without getting into specifics, what I’ve learned in all these conversations is that what Ben experienced here is considered to be part of the recovery from his previous procedure,” Lee told Lewis. “The NBA schedule is obviously rigorous and not forgiving to the need for patience at times and Ben made every effort to be available to help his team in every way as much as he could.”

“Ben’s process of seeking out the information of what’s going on has been a very lock-in-step effort with the Nets to clearly get an understanding of how to give (him) the opportunity to not only get healthy, but also his best path to long-term sustainable health, which allows him to regularly participate and play at the highest levels – something he has done since he entered the NBA,” Lee told SNY’s Ian Begley.

“We feel like we have been given really solid clarity as to what he is experiencing today, how and why and most importantly what needs to happen moving forward to allow him to move forward with consistency and regularity.”

The Nets have not revealed much in terms of medical specifics regarding the issue, but a doctor at the same hospital where Simmons underwent his surgery agreed with Simmons 18-month perspective.

“If he’s saying 18 months, someone told him that. Someone will say that when you know you’ve got a significant nerve problem,” Dr. Neel Anand of Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles told Lewis. “He had a microdiscectomy. … You have an operation to remove a herniated disk that’s pressing on a nerve.

“The surgery only takes the disc out and takes the pressure away from the nerve. It doesn’t make the nerve normal. … So the nerve is damaged, injured or whatever. The nerve has to recover on its own. So that someone told him that 18 months means he had a significant nerve problem. And yes, it would be right to say it might take 18 months for it to get better. Only time will say.”

Anand, who does not have access to Simmons records, said the most likely scenario is that Simmons had a “flare-up,” not some new issue, in his back. Simmons had had his left knee drained and an injection of platelet-rich plasma before the All-Star Break.

Vaughn intimated that the Nets decision was indeed the end of a process that initially was more about strengthening Simmons back but the recent discovery of the impingement changed things.

“So during that time, he was strengthening, trying to get back on the court, doing some things on the court. And that was just part of his kinda reassessment,” said Vaughn. “That’s when we got the impingement. So that started this next layer of going to see specialists. So that was kind of the sequence of the strengthening, which took part to get him to reassessing, which the reassessing got him to specialists. That’s how we got to today.”

The Nets have few options available to them other that hoping he will return to the form he displayed his first four years in the league. With $78.2 million remaining on his current contract, his trade value is minimal and the Nets would almost certainly have to add draft picks to any package. The Nets only other option would be stretching out the remainder of his deal in a buyout. That would mean taking on $15.6 million in dead money each year through 2028 ... and live with the possibility of having him return to health with another team.