LONG ROAD: Ben Simmons return to play filled with ups, downs and head-scratching turnabouts

 

It’s been a frustrating journey for the Nets, their fans and Ben Simmons. There was a lot of hope that Simmons would ramp up and be ready within a few weeks of the Nets’ decision to trade for him in early February, but back issues, specifically a herniated disc, have kept him off the court … until now. On Friday, Simmons said it’s “reasonable” he’ll play Monday vs. the Celtics at Barclays Center.

Things have been so frustrating with the ups and downs, head-scratching turnabouts and imprecise (at best) language that some fans have bought into skeptical, even cynical, conspiracy theory on what’s been keeping Simmons off the court.

Here’s our chronology of the events beginning with the trade and ending with today’s announcement that he’s finally available to play … and just in time.

February 10 – Nets acquire Simmons along with Seth Curry and Andre Drummond plus two first rounders and two trade exceptions in return for James Harden and Paul Millsap.

February 15 – At his introductory press conference in Brooklyn, Simmons tells media, “I don’t have a date yet, but I’m working towards getting back on the floor. No date yet, but I’m starting to ramp it up.” There’s no discussion of any back issues.

February 21 – Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reports “it’s going to be more like weeks rather than months” before Simmons gets on the court again, offering a positive lens on Simmons ramp-up, then referred to as “reconditioning.”

February 22 – Marks talks to season ticket holders at a Barclays Center reception about Simmons, offers optimism on how he, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving can mesh. He says he hopes for quick ramp-up, noting of Simmons and Durant, “I’m certainly not going to bet against either one of those guys.”

February 25 – Simmons flies to Milwaukee with team.

February 26 – Nash describes Simmons as having some back “soreness,” the first indication that back issues, which he had also experienced in Philadelphia, are what’s keeping him off the court.

Late February/Early March – Simmons gets MRI on his back, apparently related to pain issue. The test is not disclosed till March 18.

March 2 – Brian Windhorst of ESPN says Simmons back issue is worse than reported, quotes Rich Paul, Simmons agent, as telling him that his client is more “week-to-week” than “day-to-day.”

March 3 – Marks tells Michael Grady of YES Network that there’s no timetable, but says Ben Simmons is “weeks” away from playing for Nets, first confirmation that Simmons back is an issue. “Unfortunately, his back stiffness has delayed his ability to get on the court with his teammates. So he’s been rehabbing these last sort of week to 10 days,” Marks tells Grady.

March 6 – Adrian Wojnarowski reports Simmons won’t play in Philadelphia vs. the 76ers, his first time back in Philly since he walked out in October. Woj adds that Nets hope Simmons can get back on the court with his teammates in the week after the 76ers game.

March 10 – Simmons travels with Nets to Philly by bus, sits with team on bench, enduring fan abuse until his teammates blow out Sixers. Reported as a big step in improving his mental health issues.

March 12 – Nash says Simmons slowly ramping up as questions continue to rise about Simmons’ availability.

March 15 (?) – Simmons gets epidural to relieve pain in his back which has been radiating into both legs.

March 16 – Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne report that Simmons has suffered an irritation of the L-4 disc of the lower spine but hope remains he can return for a “couple” of regular-season games.

March 18 – Nash says Simmons had a “flare-up” of his chronic back issues about a month earlier, reveals Simmons had an MRI in early March but won’t disclose any details, calling it “old news.”

March 21 – Shams Charania reports and Nash confirms that Simmons has herniated L-4 disc, first confirmation that back issue is more than “soreness,” “stiffness” or a “flare-up,” all used by Nets to describe things. No indication when herniated disc was discovered.

March 27 – Simmons flies with team to Miami, his first flight since his trip to Milwaukee a month earlier. Grady reports on YES that his back pain is now localized — no longer radiating into his legs — as a result of epidural, rest and rehab. Simmons flies to subsequent Nets trips including Boston for playoffs.

March 30 – Teammates report Simmons is in “good spirits.”

April 1 – Shams Charania reports Simmons has resumed “light on-court work” in Brooklyn.

April 2 – Nash confirms Charania report of light court work, “He’s doing some light shooting. He’s been on the court a little bit the past couple of days. Nothing dynamic yet,”.

April 2 – Simmons files grievance to get fines back from 76ers.

April 3 – Woj reports Simmons return in regular season which ends in a week “not realistic.”

April 4 – Shelburne says chance of Simmons playing at all this season is “10 percent. I mean, come on, let’s be real.”

April 4 – Nash rules out Simmons for rest of regular season and play-in tournament.

April 9 – Brian Lewis of Post quotes source close to Simmons as saying he’s “a little better,” hopes to avoid surgery, first discussion of any off-season procedure, adding to pessimism about a return.

April 10 – Woj and Shams report Simmons could play in first round, a shocking turnaround from recent pessimism. Nets release a video from practice the day before which included short clips of Simmons shooting and doing a little bit of movement on the HSS Training Center hardwood. A big milestone on last day of regular season.

April 10 – Nash, in his first update on Simmons since April 1, discloses he’s doing some “light shooting,” and said his rehab is still focused on “1-on-0” activity, but lot of benchmarks must be hit before and return to play can be discussed.

April 12 – Charania tells Pat McAfee that Simmons could return to play for Brooklyn after Games 1 and 2 in Boston.

April 13 – Simmons posts social media on Instagram and Twitter, intimating that he’s getting better, getting ready, to play again.

April 14 – Kevin Durant says “No, I’m not expecting (Simmons) to play” just as more writers claim his return is imminent. most prominently Brian Windhorst of ESPN who days earlier had dismissed any possibility of a return even in post-season. Nash says he doesn’t know where reports of imminent return are coming from.

April 16 – Woj tweets that Simmons will begin practicing the week of April 18 after two weeks of being pain-free, says it’s likely he plays in first round.

April 18 – Simmons practices 4-on-4 against stay-ready group with team is in Boston, his first practice since arriving in Brooklyn. (Nets would’ve had him run 5-on-5, but they don’t have enough players.)

April 19 – Nash discloses that first practice, says Simmons “making progress,” but team will monitor effects to see how his back responds over next few days. He also reveals that Simmons did a 0-on-5 walkthrough that afternoon.

April 20 – Simmons goes through second practice with contact as Woj reports Nets targeting a return on April 25, Game 4, in Brooklyn but says Nets have yet to rule out Game 3 on April 23.

April 22 – Simmons speaks with the media for first time since his initial press conference saying it’s “reasonable” that he’ll play Monday.

It appears from the chronology that sometime in late February, perhaps even on the team trip to Milwaukee, Simmons first experienced the back pain resulting in an MRI (whose results the Nets have not released) a diagnosis that he has a herniated L-4 disc in his lower back, then the administration of the epidural.

Since then, it’s been a matter of Simmons surpassing milestones, the key ones related to reduction and ultimately absence of back pain.

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