Nets' Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in back, MRI shows

NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said he's attempting to take the "positive route" with the news that Ben Simmons is going to be out for more than another week with a nerve impingement in his lower back, calling this a "bump that is in his road right now."

"I tried to joke with him," Vaughn said when asked how Simmons is taking the news before Brooklyn hosted the Orlando Magic Tuesday night at Barclays Center in the Nets' third in-season tournament group stage game. "He was getting treatment on the table. I just tried to joke with him, because we had texted each other a little bit.

"You know, these athletes, they want to play, and they want to contribute. And no athlete wants to be hurt. And this is not something he has asked for, not something that he wants. We were trying at the time to really get our group whole and healthy and form an identity together, and he's a part of that identity. And Ben has brought an element to our team that is irreplaceable because of the style that he plays with and the things that he helps benefit our team in doing.

"So, again, I'm going to take a positive approach to this thing and hopefully a week from now he's feeling better when we have an update for you guys. But no athlete wants to be hurt."

The Nets had announced earlier Tuesday that Simmons would be reevaluated in a week after an MRI revealed a nerve impingement in the lower left side of his back that was causing ongoing issues with his left hip.

Tuesday's game was the fourth contest in a row Simmons has missed since the issue cropped up during Brooklyn's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks here on Nov. 6. He'd initially been ruled out for Brooklyn's win over the LA Clippers on Wednesday and its loss in Boston to the Celtics on Friday with left hip soreness. That listing changed to a left hip contusion before Sunday's win over Washington.

But that was before Simmons underwent an MRI that showed the ongoing nerve issue, causing his hip discomfort. Vaughn said the injury happened on a play in the Milwaukee game, and that "to his knowledge," Simmons wasn't experiencing any issues with his hip or back before that play.

Simmons ultimately finished that game, but hasn't played since.

"All the guys go through an assessment postgame and the next day," Vaughn said. "So whether it was postgame or the next day, he was feeling some irritation.

"Ben had got treatment, but didn't respond the way we wanted to from day to day."

Simmons is no stranger to back issues. They have been consistent for the past two years. He missed the entire 2021-22 season due to a combination of requesting a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers -- which was eventually granted -- and back issues that prevented him from playing in Brooklyn. He had surgery in May 2022.

Simmons then played 42 games last season before being shut down due to another nerve impingement in his back.

Across six games this season, Simmons has averaged 6.5 points, a career-high 10.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists for the Nets, all while starting and playing his preferred position of point guard.

However, he's continued to be far less aggressive offensively than he was in the first four seasons in Philadelphia, where he won the league's Rookie of the Year award, made three All-Star teams and was a third-team All-NBA selection in 2020.

In each of those four seasons, Simmons shot at least 10 times a game and never averaged under four free throws per contest. In his six games this season, Simmons is averaging six shot attempts per game and has only attempted four free throws overall, making one.

Vaughn, however, highlighted Simmons' impact on Brooklyn's ability to play in transition and said that the team will have to make up for it until he returns.

"I'm gonna do with what I have," Vaughn said. "So that's the first thing. So the dudes that suit up, we're gonna figure out a way how to use those guys. But it's two different teams [with and without him]. We were top five, top six in transition with Ben, bottom five without Ben. Better executing in the half court without Ben, not with Ben.

"So I gotta get our guys to wrap our heads around, we got to mesh this thing together where we're not shooting late in the shot clock and playing half-court basketball. We still need to push the pace, and that's multiple ball handlers pushing the pace and getting us opportunities early in the shot clock. That still has to be who we are. But we do have to execute in the half court to maximize each possession."