Back injuries are incredibly common in professional sports,
particularly in the NBA. But just because they’re common does not
make them easy to overcome — and Ben Simmons can attest to
Simmons is a big, dynamic playmaker whose defensive versatility
and speed set him apart from the vast majority of guards in the
NBA. And, right or not, the Brooklyn Nets were relying on Simmons
to contribute in their first-round playoff series against the
After a number of reports suggested a Simmons comeback was
imminent, we now know that was not meant to be.
The media didn’t help, as rumblings surfaced that Simmons was
pain-free following a practice and could return to the team as
early as Game 3. Simmons didn’t help his case either, and at one
point beckoned to ESPN's Nick Friedell to film him dunking the basketball after a
We don’t necessarily know why Simmons didn’t play in the Nets’
first-round series. Maybe he suffered a setback, or maybe he wasn’t
as healthy as we were led to believe. Per The Athletic's Shams
Charania, his mental health was also a major factor.
But while reports about his potential availability misled many
of us, Dr. Rahul Shah, a world renowned, board-certified
orthopedic spine surgeon, cautioned against getting too excited
from the very start.
“Simmons received a shot a few weeks ago,” Dr. Shah told
BasketballNews.com in a Zoom interview in late March. “If you’re
not seeing him practice, warming up with the team, 3-on-3s — if
he’s not doing that, you can be pretty certain he’s not getting the
relief he needs.”
We last saw Simmons on the floor in the 2021 Eastern Conference
semifinals, but he sat out of this season's training camp in hopes
of pressuring the Philadelphia 76ers to trade him. The Sixers
didn’t relent... at least not quickly.
Simmons' hold-out cost him 54 games (and approximately $20
million, over which he filed a grievance in early April), and on
Feb. 10, he was finally traded to Brooklyn.
As mentioned earlier, Simmons dealt with mental-health issues
for the entirety of the 2021-22 season and possibly longer. It was
initially reported by ESPN’s Ramona
Shelburne that Simmons “will continue to work with his
therapist to get mentally ready to play in Brooklyn.” But there was
no mention of a back injury — at least not initially.
One of the main challenges in understanding where Simmons was in
his recovery as of a week ago was that the injury wasn’t
proactively reported. Even Nets head coach Steve Nash seemed
unclear on his status for much of the time following the trade.
Nash referred to Simmons’ back injury as “a little soreness” in
late February. In mid-March, he had “extremely high hopes” that
Simmons would return in the regular season. But in late March, Nash
finally conceded that “someone” had reported that Simmons had a
Was Nash being intentionally coy? Or was he truly unaware of the
extent of Simmons’ back issues?
It’s worth mentioning that Simmons has a mostly uneventful
injury history as it relates to his back. The most recent
occurrence was when he missed nine games with a nerve impingement
in February 2020, but there have been no reported complications
Something clearly happened between June 2021 and February
Dr. Shah told BasketballNews.com that herniated
discs typically require three-to-six months for a full recovery.
Could Simmons have really injured his back after being
traded? Or just before?
It’s possible, but not relevant.
Regardless of when it happened, we can probably blame Simmons'
hold-out for much of it. Training camp and the preseason are
important to warm up for a relatively long season. Getting back
into shape after skipping training camp and preseason and
missing months of a season is nearly impossible — even for someone
as athletic as Simmons.
Even worse, Simmons’ injury could have long-term implications
for the Nets.
With Simmons having received an epidural shot in mid-March, Dr.
Shah walked BasketballNews.com through the process and timeline of
a typical recovery from a herniated disc.
“Shots are one step before surgery, and that’s why Simmons was
having shots,” Dr. Shah explained. "If that doesn’t work, why not?
It can be because it’s the wrong problem, but it can also be that
more has to be done. Typically, with surgery — when you go to that
area — you identify where the disc is pressing on that nerve. You
go in and basically trim down the area; you just remove a small
portion. But if you’re torquing on that area, there’s a chance that
more disc can come out.
“So, you want to limit risk as much as you can. You want to
always take the least amount of risk, but sometimes it’s not
enough. This operation is very effective but there is a 5-to-15%
chance of more disc coming out in the future.”
Dr. Shah also explained that, while surgery is generally
successful, the risk it presents leads many people to try rehab and
“People return to twice as many games and play for twice as long
with the surgery than without it,” Dr. Shah explained. “But there
is a risk with it. And that’s why most people don’t go with it
“So, for Ben Simmons, the likelihood of him needing this kind of
surgery is probably reasonable, maybe 60% or 70%. And the real
question is, ‘Can he return back and play at the highest level with
the shot?’ If he can’t, you have your answer.”
While the Nets’ season is done, Simmons could have decisions to
make that will directly impact his ability to play next season.
Granted, Simmons’ mental health is at least equally important as
his physical health, especially to him; but if Simmons’ is to be
successful, his back must be healthy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a diskectomy — a surgical
procedure to remove the damaged portion of a herniated disk in your
spine — requires at least 6-to-8 weeks of recovery time. For
context, Dwight Howard was expected to miss 2-to-3 months following a
microdiscectomy in late 2018, and Mike Dunleavy was projected to
miss 8-to-10 weeks in 2015 following
the same procedure.
Simmons and the Nets have about five months until the start of
training camp. So, while he technically has some time,
Simmons should make a decision regarding how he'll proceed sooner
In a recent HoopsHype podcast with the Daily
News' Kristian Winfield, Mike Scotto said the Nets hope Simmons
can guard an opposing team’s best player on any given night,
regardless of position. In other words, in a given (hypothetical)
week, Simmons will be expected to guard the likes of LeBron James,
Ja Morant, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and more.
That is a very tall task for any player, but it’s downright
impossible if said player has a lingering injury — especially in
his back. And given what was given up to get Simmons to Brooklyn
(and the fact that most teams around the league want nothing to do
with him at the moment), the Nets have to hope he'll bounce back to
his old self.
It might seem crazy, but Ben Simmons is still only 25. He truly
could have a decade or more left in the NBA. Hopefully he's able to
overcome all of his challenges — physical and otherwise.
Looking to go to the hottest concerts, sports, theater &
family shows near you? Get 100% guaranteed tickets to more than
125,000 live events from TicketSmarter, the official ticket
marketplace of BasketballNews.com. Order online now!