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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Kristian Winfield

Nets rule Ben Simmons out for season with goal of rehabbing back

NEW YORK — The Nets have ruled embattled forward Ben Simmons out for the remainder of the year, head coach Jacque Vaughn said after practice on Tuesday, ending a months-long charade revolving around the status of the oft-injured former All-Star.

Simmons had missed all 17 games coming out of the Feb. 15-24 NBA All-Star break due to a combination of left knee and lower back soreness. The Nets announced Simmons would be out due to a nerve impingement on March 24, followed by Vaughn’s definitive ruling of out for the remainder of the season and the playoffs on Tuesday.

“After consulting with our doctors, multiple specialists, he’s just gonna begin a rehab program,” he said as players cleared the courts at the HSS Training Facility in Industry City after Nets practice. “Our doctors and the specialists feel and think that he’ll have a full recovery, so that starts now.”

Vaughn said surgery has not been discussed as an option for Simmons, who has undergone two procedures on his lower back in the last year and change. He received an epidural to help alleviate pain in his lower back last March, then underwent a microdiscectomy during the offseason when that epidural failed.

“Recommended right now and by the doctors, [surgery] is not in sight,” Vaughn said. “That’s the recommendation right now.”

Vaughn previously said Simmons was working on strengthening both his knee and back in an effort to get back on the court, but that the nerve impingement occurred during that process.

“So that started this next layer of going to see specialists,” he continued. “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.”

Simmons had fluid drained from his knee during the All-Star break, for the second time this season, and also received a platelet-rich plasma injection to help speed up the recovery process during the same break. He appeared in 42 of 58 possible games prior to the All-Star break and averaged 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game through his first season in Brooklyn.

Those are hardly the kind of numbers, however, that earned Simmons three All-Star appearances and two nods on the NBA’s All-Defensive first team.

Simmons was once a force on both ends of the floor, a former No. 1 overall pick whose unique blend of size, athleticism and court vision earned him a title as one of the most dynamic point forwards in all of basketball.

He averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game through his first four seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers before holding out the first half of the 2021-22 season with the Sixers due to mental health issues. When he arrived in Brooklyn as part of the James Harden trade, the back issues began to flare as part of his ramp-up in conditioning after missing the first half of the year.

As a result, the Nets have never gotten a 100% healthy Simmons. Vaughn said the organization believes the oft-injured star forward can clear this hurdle and return to the player he once was.

“That’s our goal. 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,” he said. “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.”

It’s an anticlimactic end for both the Nets and Simmons, especially given Simmons never truly found his footing on the court — not with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the front half of the season, and not at all in the second half as he’s been marred by injury.

Vaughn had been critical of Simmons’ impact, or lack thereof, in games on a number of occasions. He moved Simmons to a bench role and decreased his workload in the games leading into the All-Star break. In his final five games of the season, Simmons averaged just 3.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 rebounds, with Vaughn explaining in detail after a lopsided loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden why finding lineups that play to Simmons’ strengths is a challenge.

“You put another big next to Ben, then you got to figure out what the spacing is around him,” Vaughn said after the Nets’ 18-point loss at The Garden on Feb. 13. “Then, if you put another playmaker next to him, then you got to figure out what Ben looks like without the basketball. Then if you go small with Ben, then you have to figure out can you rebound enough with him?

“So the challenges are ahead of us. We’ll look them head on. We’ll figure it out. We have the personnel to figure it out. Whether it is me mixing and matching throughout different pieces of the game, and allowing him to have a group and run with a group, that part we’ll figure out, but you see the challenges that lie ahead.”

It was an anticlimactic end for another reason: The Nets and Simmons went on this rodeo last season.

When they acquired Simmons at the trade deadline, the messaging from the team was that Simmons was doing everything he could to return to the floor, which lingered well into the playoffs until the Nets scratched the forward due to back soreness at the last second ahead of Game 4 in the first round against the Boston Celtics.

This time, Vaughn said on at least four different occasions that the Nets had zero conversations about shutting Simmons down for the rest of the season — only for the team to rule him out officially on Tuesday, with seven games remaining on the schedule.

Simmons is under contract for two more seasons. He is due $77M combined through the 2024-25 NBA season.

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