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Brooklyn Nets would welcome ‘challenge’ of a potential Ben Simmons return

Brooklyn Nets would welcome ‘challenge’ of a potential Ben Simmons return
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NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets are preparing for their play-in game Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers with Ben Simmons’ status still hanging over any potential deep postseason run.

While it remains unclear when Simmons might be able to make his season debut as he continues to deal with a back injury, Nets coach Steve Nash said the organization would welcome the « challenge » of trying to integrate Simmons into their team during the playoffs.

« Another challenge, but one that we’d welcome, clearly, » Nash said after Monday’s practice. « So we’ll see — if he’s able to play at some point it would be great to incorporate him and to try and learn as we go and see how he can help our team without having much history, or any history, with our group. »

Simmons might be able to make his debut at some point in the first round, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, if the Nets were to advance that far. With a win on Tuesday, Brooklyn would play the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Game 1 is Sunday.

Simmons was acquired just before the trade deadline in a deal that sent James Harden and Paul Millsap to Philadelphia and brought Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks to the Nets. Initially, Simmons, who requested a trade out of Philadelphia last summer citing his mental health, was optimistic about playing at some point in March. But back soreness in late February, which was later revealed as a herniated disk, stalled his return.

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Simmons spent time after Monday’s practice getting some stretching and resistance-band work in, but he still has not been cleared for contact.

Nash said that while an argument could be made on both sides about how difficult it might be to add Simmons this late in the season, especially given how much in-flux the Nets’ roster has been in this season, Brooklyn is willing to take Simmons — and whatever minutes he might be able to provide — whenever he’s ready.

« The bottom line is we’d be adding a substantial talent to our team so we really welcome him, » Nash said. « He fits and he helps in a number of ways. We’re in need of help so we would welcome that challenge of trying to incorporate him in a playoff situation where he has no history with our team. No minutes on the floor with his teammates and see how we can forge that understanding as quickly as possible. »

Nash said after Sunday’s win over the Indiana Pacers that Simmons still hasn’t been cleared to start running or conditioning — but players and coaches have repeatedly said that Simmons remains in good spirits with his new team. Curry noted that while the Nets are still hoping Simmons returns at some point, the team is trying to focus on what it can control.

« We’re worried about the play-in game right now, » Curry said. « If Ben comes in, we’ll try and integrate him as much as possible, but we feel like we’re locked into this play-in situation right now, if Ben does become available we’ll deal with that then, but we have to worry about who we have out there and focus on Cleveland. I don’t think anybody’s going to be thinking about if Ben can come back, as a team. Maybe the coaches and front office — but as players, we’re locked into the task at hand. »

Curry, who missed Sunday’s game as he continues to deal with left ankle soreness, said he would play Tuesday against the Cavs. Veteran guard Goran Dragic cleared health and safety protocols and is available for Tuesday.

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