Ben Simmons may not make his Nets debut in March

After the focus leaves the star who will be back, it will turn to another star’s back.

Though the Nets will see Kevin Durant play for the first time in a month and a half on Thursday, they still don’t know when Ben Simmons will follow him onto the court.

Thursday marks three weeks since the Nets traded for Philadelphia’s hold-out, and Simmons has yet to participate fully in practice. He cited mental-health concerns for staying away from the 76ers, but what Steve Nash has termed “back soreness” has been the latest issue in Brooklyn.

The Nets officially are listing Simmons as unable to play because he is “reconditioning,” having not played in an NBA game in nearly nine months. His back has slowed the process.

“Ben is still working through a number of things,” Nash had said Monday before entering COVID protocol later that day. At the time, Nash did not offer a timeline beyond saying Simmons would not play this week.

Ben Simmons
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ESPN reported Wednesday, during an off-day for the Nets, that Simmons is “week to week” and might not even debut this month. He has not participated in five-on-five scrimmages yet, which is typically a last hurdle to clear before returning to action.

Simmons has been seen on the practice court with the Nets, working with assistant Kyle Korver, one of the greatest 3-point shooters ever. But in a season of tantalization and frustration, Simmons’ shooting form and conditioning have not been on display thus far.

The Nets play in Philadelphia next Thursday in a highly anticipated face-off with James Harden and Joel Embiid, a game Simmons, upon arriving in Brooklyn, said he hoped he would be ready for.

The odds are not on his side.

After the Harden-Simmons blockbuster, the Nets cut DeAndre’ Bembry, essentially choosing the more offensively oriented Bruce Brown over Bembry, who wound up with the Bucks.

A few weeks later, Brown has made the decision look strong.

While the Nets have had to rely too much upon their 6-foot-4 swingman, who has started all eight games they have played since dropping Bembry, Brown has played his best basketball of the season.

In the stretch, the 25-year-old is averaging 12.8 points on 49 percent shooting — including 47 percent from beyond the arc — along with six rebounds and 2.6 assists.

“I think his physicality and his ability to compete on a nightly basis we’ve kind of leaned on,” acting head coach Jacque Vaughn said Tuesday.

Perhaps the contributions are forgotten if and when the team is fully healthy, but Brown has a strong case for a second-unit spot if Brooklyn is starting Durant, Kyrie Irving, Simmons, Andre Drummond and Seth Curry.

There was no update from the Nets regarding Nash, who has been in health and safety protocols since Monday. The head coach would need to record two negative COVID-19 tests in a 24-hour period to rejoin the team.

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