ORLANDO, Fla. — Ben Simmons’ latest back setback has to raise alarms, with orthopedic specialists who spoke with The Post questioning whether the Nets newcomer will be ready to debut by the end of the regular season or even during the playoffs.
The 25-year-old All-Star — whom the Nets essentially dealt with forming MVP James Harden for at the Feb. 10 trade deadline — hasn’t played at all since last June 20, first holding out in Philadelphia and now ramping up in Brooklyn.
Now, after suffering what the Nets only describe as “a sore back,” Simmons not only wasn’t ready to practice by last Saturday as initially hoped, but he’s not even cleared to run and sprint, or go one-on-none. It’s several steps to full practice, with two outside experts telling The Post it’s unlikely he’ll be fit for the April 10 regular-season finale, while one didn’t even think he’d make the playoffs at all.
“I don’t think that’s happening. I think the odds are against it. Think about it this way: The longer he’s been out, the longer he’s likely to stay out. Until you fundamentally change the underlying problem,” said Dr. Rahul Shah, a board certified orthopedic spine & neck surgeon.
“I don’t think he’s coming back [this season]. I don’t think that you have anything to say that he will convincingly. He’s got to do the running in the sprinting before he can do one-on-one or five-on-five.”
Based in New Jersey, Shah was the team doctor for the Magic and has seen Simmons play a number of times. He liked Simmons’ situation to be in quicksand and said he expects Simmons to need an epidural cortisone shot and, potentially, offseason surgery.
“What do I think is going to happen? Season ends, media goes quiet, he takes care of whatever he needs to. And then he’s rehabbing, and he comes back: ‘Oh yeah, he had a minor procedure done on his back.’ That’s what I think is going to happen. That might be a shot, and most likely it’ll be a procedure following the shot.”
While the Nets heavily invested in Simmons — he’s the team’s centerpiece acquisition of the Harden megadeal and is in just the second season of a five-year, $177 million contract — getting his back right is all-important. And this is his fourth back injury in just two years.
Simmons had missed eight straight games and was getting daily treatment for nerve issues in his lower back when the 2019-20 campaign was halted by COVID-19. The next season, he suffered nerve impingement in his lower back, vomiting from the pain according to then-76ers coach Brett Brown.
There was another flare-up this season in Philadelphia and now another during his ramp-up with the Nets. But his new team has been customarily tight-lipped, leaving him off their last flights to spare his back but offering no timeline.
“Just continue to rehab, continue to strengthen his back in all those areas and continue to progress moving forward,” head coach Steve Nash said. “Rehab and just strengthen his back, and continue to get more mobility and more dynamic movement every day.”
Dr. Armin Tehrany — also a board certified orthopedic surgeon, and the assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai — was slightly more optimistic. But Tehrany — who has worked alongside the team physicians for the Jets, Rangers and Islanders — still sees Simmons missing the regular season.
“Oh yeah. Yes, I definitely can see that. The thing with back injuries is they can become chronic and difficult,” said Tehrany, who thought it feasible that Simmons could return to practice in time to suit up for the play-in or playoffs. “Yes, I think that’s fair.”
The Nets currently sit eighth in the East behind Toronto. If the season ended now, they’d play at the seventh-seeded Raptors in the play-in.
Simmons still has to get cleared to run and sprint and go one-on-none. Then he can ultimately progress to five-on-five. Once that happens, the performance team will likely demand he get through three high-intensity workouts before clearing him.
But time is running out.