Mental health issues aren’t unheard of in the NBA. All-Stars like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan have openly discussed their battles in recent years. However, Ben Simmons’ inability to play through a mysterious mental block and his reticence to speak about it has turned him into an NBA medical mystery.
I’m mostly saying Simmons should be required to openly discuss his chaotic personal life, but the whiplash caused by his ever-changing reasons for not suiting up this season have been jarring. A month and a half after his originally scheduled March 10 debut against the Philadelphia 76ers, Simmons backed out of Brooklyn’s season finale and left everyone in a cliffhanger. What the heck is actually going on with him?
Since that point, Simmons’ return date has been constantly shifting. The March 10 date was moved back to March 18 against Portland, until Simmons received an epidural shot on March 15 for a herniated disc in his back. Nash also revealed at that time that Simmons had an MRI which confirmed the back injury. He was then expected to rejoin the Nets before the postseason. Then, after two weeks without pain, Simmons was expected to suit up in Game 4.
Disappointment has become Ben Simmons’ middle name. With the Nets trailing the Celtics 3-0 in the first round, that plan was mothballed after Simmons reportedly woke up Sunday morning with back soreness related to a pre-Game 3 workout on Saturday. Simmons was roundly criticized for his lack of fire by Reggie Miller and just about anyone with a pulse.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Simmons’ latest setback sparked a meeting in which the Nets forward disclosed a connection that would explain the apparent inconsistencies between reports of his mental health and his hobbled back. Reportedly, the conversation between Simmons, Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul and franchise officials explained a connection between his recurring back injury and the abstract mental health issues that ailed him all season.
According to sources, Simmons told those in the room that a mental block exists for him, dating in part to last summer’s postseason, which is creating stress that could serve as a trigger point for his back issues. He added that he does want to play basketball and play for the Nets as he works on solutions in regard to his well-being.
For Nets players, the confusion was not centered around Simmons’ ailment, but with the perceived lack of attempt to play, effort to be in uniform and push his body in these high-stakes playoffs, sources said. Nets players and coaches wanted to see Simmons show resolve and enter this series to start his on-court Brooklyn tenure, even if it was for limited minutes on Monday or none at all while still dressing for the game.
Head coach Steve Nash deflecting questions about the availability of Simmons’ didn’t help matters.
“I said it recently that part of the decision has to be Ben’s,” Nash said. “I think that he has to be all in, so that is part of the question. That’s fair. It’s not all on Ben. it’s not like, ‘Oh come on. He didn’t play.’ No, this is a unique situation. He’s never played with his teammates and to go into a playoff situation after a long period of inactivity and injury, it’s not straightforward. So there shouldn’t be any conclusions made either way.”
Understandably, coaches and players insisted on seeing Simmons tough it out for a few minutes in an elimination game. They’re frustrated and their championship aspirations have gone Kaboom! Meanwhile, the dichotomy of his former teammate Joel Embiid playing through a torn ligament in his thumb as Simmons declines to play through stress sounds like a hackneyed storyline from a show that‘s gone to many seasons and runs out of original ideas.
There’s never been a clear timeline for when Simmons’ back flared up the first time, however, his mental block became an issue at the beginning of this season around the time he refused to practice or play with the 76ers. When he began citing his worsening mental health as a reason for Philadelphia to discontinue fining him for every game he missed, this justification was derided as a ploy. His ongoing grievance against the 76ers for $20 million in withheld salary has only perpetuated that belief.
As time drags on though, Simmons’ fleshed out “excuses” have become even more convincing. If he is faking it, that would make Ben Simmons the true heir to The Process because that level of commitment to plummeting his value is almost Sam Hinkie-like. At this point, his mysterious back injuries may be costing him in future contract negotiations. Stress is a part of playing high-stakes playoff basketball, which would explain much of Simmons’ playoff no-shows. Has Simmons really been so stressed out by criticism since last summer that he’s suffering from stress-related back injuries?
The Ben Simmons saga has been bizarre from the beginning and it continues to evolve.