Ben Simmons and his back would be perhaps the biggest story looming over the 76ers if not for the coronavirus pandemic.
The two-time All-Star point guard had missed eight consecutive games with what the team labeled a lower-back pinched nerve before the season was suspended on March 11.
“I’m very optimistic he’ll be ready to play if and when we’re given that green light to resume,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said Tuesday during his conference call with local media.
The league’s practice facilities have been closed since March 20. The next week the NBA opened up the facilities to approved players in need of essential treatment and rehabilitation during the hiatus.
“He’s doing really, really well,” Brand said.
Well enough to play today?
While Brand is optimistic that Simmons will be able to play if the season resumes, that won’t be until July at the earliest.
But would he be ready to play if the playoffs began Tuesday?
“It’s tough because of him not playing three-on-three, five-on-five, just to speculate there,” Brand said. “But when I FaceTime him during his workouts, during his treatment and I see him, I’d be highly encouraged that his ramp-up would be different [without the shutdown]. We took our time."
The general manager said Simmons’ recovery and rehabilitation have been methodical and thoughtful, and not rushed.
“It’s hard to speculate, but he’s been working hard," Brand said, "and I know he’d be closer or ready.”
Simmons began his rehabilitation a few days after pinching the nerve in his back against the Bucks on Feb. 22 in Milwaukee. The team said he experienced lower-back tightness while grabbing a rebound during practice Feb. 19, the first practice after the All-Star break. Simmons received treatment and missed the following day’s game against the Nets.
But the next game for the Sixers was on the road against the NBA’s best team, the Bucks, on Feb. 22, on national television. He played just 4 minutes, 44 seconds, then missed the final eight games before league play was suspended.
Standout forward Tobias Harris and three-time All-Star center Joel Embiid are among the Sixers permitted access to the facility for ongoing treatment.
“Embiid has been working out,” Brand said. "You know he’s conditioning. He’s focused. He’s asking about when his trainer can come in, when he can get on the court.
“I wouldn’t bet against him. He’s going to be ready and ramped up.”