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Kristian Winfield: Ben Simmons is the ace in the Nets’ back pocket … if he ever gets healthy enough to be played

The Nets are a championship contender whether or not Ben Simmons plays a game this season.

And as of now it remains unclear whether the star forward will actually play a game this season, since his back started bothering him weeks ago.

The ambiguity of Simmons’ future availability, however, makes him a wild card on a top-heavy Nets roster. The 25-year-old two-time All-Star is rehabbing after receiving an epidural to help him work through a herniated disk in his lower back.

He has yet to make his Nets debut, has not practiced with the team or completed individual workouts in weeks, and has been on the Nets’ injury report every game since his arrival via the Feb. 10 blockbuster James Harden trade.

But the Nets have not shut him down or ruled him out for the season.

Simmons is still working to put his back issues behind him and eventually help a team with championship aspirations. And he’s been telling his teammates he’s working to make his debut as quickly as he can, according to Seth Curry.

Which makes Simmons the ace in the back pocket for a deep and talented Nets team if he can eventually be healthy enough to play minutes for this Nets team.

“Ace in the back pocket is exactly right,” veteran guard Patty Mills said.

That’s because Simmons so dramatically shifts what the Nets will be capable of doing on both ends of the floor. He is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, a 6-11 forward with a point guard’s court vision and ball control who will always defend, and oftentimes neutralize, the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer.

Before taking the head coaching job in Brooklyn, Steve Nash used to be a player development consultant for the Golden State Warriors, who continue to use Draymond Green as a utility playmaker on both ends of the floor. Green is a former Defensive Player of the Year who initiates offense and directs traffic on defense.

“I think [Simmons and Green] have similar skill sets in a way,” Nash told the Daily News on Thursday. “But the only thing that Ben can do now is prepare physically, mentally by being around in practice, shootaround, film room, paying attention during games, and then as he gets back on the court, the skill stuff.”

But identifying an apples-to-apples comparison for Simmons is a difficult task.

Simmons is faster, more athletic and has more elevation than Green ever could. Truthfully there isn’t a player in the league in a role comparable to the one Simmons could play in Brooklyn because there isn’t quite a player like Simmons.

“He’s very unique, and that’s what makes us very strong when we do get him,” Mills said. “I think he’s a unique player, high IQ, great feel for the game, great passer and unbelievable defensive player that can guard anyone, so I think for many reasons, he will make us better.”

This all, of course, stands only if Simmons is able to play before the Nets get eliminated from the playoffs.

“He hasn’t really practiced with us,” Bruce Brown added at shootaround on Thursday. “He really just passes the ball. I don’t think he’s done much, but maybe when I’m not here, he’s doing stuff.”

Yet Simmons has been engaged even more so in recent practices, according to his fellow Australian teammate. Mills said the Nets started mapping out how Simmons could look like alongside different players on the court.

“I think more importantly, it’s been the conversations he’s having about where he sees himself on the team and different parts of the floor, defensive and offensive end, and getting a feel that way,” Mills added.

Nash, however, remained hesitant. Backs are tricky, and as much as the Nets want to envision Simmons’ fit, nothing quite matches seeing him in real time on the floor.

“Clearly, we’d love to have Ben play for us. We will hopefully get him back,” Nash said. “At the same time every day, we can’t put our feet in the air because we don’t know when or if it’s going to happen. We just have to play what’s in front of us, with what’s the group that’s available today.”

For that to happen, the star forward must progress from rehab to individual workouts to one-on-one, two-on-two and eventually five-on-five. And he must complete three high-intensity workouts without an injury setback before the Nets’ performance staff clears him to play.

That is unlikely to happen before the play-in tournament begins on April 12. It might not even happen until the second round of the playoffs.

Simmons, however, is worth the wait. He is a perennial top-20 leader in steals, assists, rebounds and field goal percentage, who could potentially join the roster in the middle of a championship push.

He’s an ace in the back pocket for a team already loaded with stars and capable role players … if he gets healthy.

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Source: Berkshire mont

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