Ben Simmons expected to be ready for Nets training camp after back surgery

Brooklyn Nets forward Ben Simmons is expected to fully recover from a back injury before next season’s training camp following a successful microdiscectomy surgery.

Simmons went under the knife Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Ray Hospital in Los Angeles, California.

Dr. Robert Watkins IV, the spine consultant for six Los Angeles professional teams — L.A. Rams, L.A. Dodgers, L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Kings, and LAFC –performed the surgery. Dr. Watkins IV is the same spine surgeon who performed the back surgery of former Nets and current Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez last December. Lopez successfully returned after three months.

The 25-year-old Simmons will begin a rehabilitation program after an initial three-week recovery period.

Simmons missed the entire last season, citing initially mental health issues following an ugly fallout with his former team, the Philadelphia 76ers. The former top overall pick was eventually traded to the Nets last February — along with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks — for James Harden and veteran forward Paul Millsap.

But even after Simmons got his wish to be traded, he has yet to suit up for the Nets. His nagging back injury added to his mental stress. In mid-March, he received an epidural shot for a herniated disc in his back and ramped up his recovery. He contemplated returning in the Game 4 of the first-round series between the Nets and the Boston Celtics but backed out the day before because of a sore back. It turned out he needed surgery.

Simmons has an extensive back injury history. He had four documented cases of the back issue before the 2021-22 season, missing nine games in February 2020 because of a nerve impingement in his lower back. But the nagging back injury came back to haunt him in May last year.

Simmons’ camp and the Nets decided Wednesday that surgery is their best option to address his nagging back issues.

“After consultation with multiple back specialists, it has been determined that the best course of action for Ben’s long-term health is for him to undergo surgery,” the team said in a statement on Wednesday. “The microdiscectomy procedure, scheduled for Thursday, is designed to alleviate pain caused by the herniated disc in Ben’s back. Further dates will be provided following the procedure.”

This is the second time Simmons has missed an entire season in his NBA career. After getting drafted first overall in 2016, Simmons missed the 2016-17 season after suffering a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot.

He has three years left on his $170 million rookie max extension and is set to earn $35 million next season.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

History suggests Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson is likely done for the season

Ben Simmons missed an entire season. Brook Lopez missed 100 games. Kevin Durant only played 27 games during the 2014-15 season.

History suggests that New York Knicks center Mitchell Robinson could be facing an uphill climb in his recovery from his latest injury.

Lopez, Simmons, and Durant were the latest NBA players standing 6-10 and above who successfully recovered from a fractured fifth metatarsal in their foot or most commonly known as Jones fracture, which Robinson suffered last week.

Likely done for the season

On Monday, the Knicks announced that he had a successful surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. The team did not offer any timetable for his recovery.

Dr. Martin O’Malley, HSS’s noted NBA players’ orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery on the three players mentioned above and likely on Robinson, begged off to comment on this story.

But a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist offered a bleak forecast of a Robinson comeback this season.

“If [Knicks] were being cautious, then yes [Robinson is likely done for the season]. Of course, it depends on the severity, but to undergo foot surgery this late in the season is typically season-ending. If he plays, it may be restricted play (minute restriction/load management). However, I don’t know if they’d want to do that with a young, dynamic player,” Dr. Ernest Eusebio told Empire Sports Media. 

Recovery time

The recovery can take an entire year, according to Dr. Eusebio, the founder of the Jersey City-based Wolves Performance & Lifestyle Collective, an all-encompassing high-performance consultancy providing solutions in Professional Sport, Entertainment, & Fortune 500.

“It could very well be 9-12 months until he returns to the court unrestricted, pending success of rehab & player’s ability to return to NBA shape,” he said. “[Knicks] said his surgery was successful, which could mean at best he may be back for the offseason in 4-6 months, but that does not necessarily mean playing time due to the nature of the game,” Dr. Eusebio said. “Full recovery is typically a 6-9 month window.”

Dr. Eusebio, who has worked with NBA, MLB, NFL athletes, and Olympians, is not discounting the possibility of a postseason return for Robinson, giving him a 3-4 month time frame for recovery.

“It would be amazing to see him late in the first round of the playoffs, and it wouldn’t surprise me with [Tom Thibodeau]. But I believe it’s more likely that he plays in the second round if the Knicks make it which will be a huge asset,” he added.

Pau Gasol was another 7-footer who had the same injury when he was 26. He returned in four months in 2006. But Memphis put him in a 25-minute restriction. Former Washington Wizards’ 6-11 forward Andray Blatche also broke his foot in late June of 2010 and was back in early October for the training camp.

What is Jones fracture?

Dr. Eusebio, who earned the “Best in Patient Care” award from the American Health Council in 2018, explained that the regional blood supply in that area isn’t the greatest. That’s why a surgical repair is necessary to return to high levels of performance.

“A fifth metatarsal fracture that requires surgery is more often than not a Jones fracture, which hints that a break may have occurred along the shaft of the bone, proximal to the base,” explained Dr. Ernest Eusebio.

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“This is an unfortunate injury to deal with as an explosive player due to the foot’s vital role in jumping and running. Rehab is usually initiated non-weight bearing, and as pain decreases and bone healing occurs, Mitchell [Robinson] should be progressively loading his foot and sports specific movements accordingly – which can take some time,” Dr. Eusebio added.

The average missed time in the NBA for this type of injury is roughly 39 games, according to sports injury expert and certified athletic trainer Jeff Stotts who operates the website instreetclothes.com, which breaks down typical sports injuries for the fans. But as history suggests, the recovery period is longer for big men.

If there’s one thing going for Robinson, it’s his age. The 7-foot-center just turned 23 Thursday.

Simmons was 20 when he broke his foot. Durant was 26 when he had Jones fracture and was coming off his MVP season. Lopez was the same age as Robinson when he suffered the injury.

Bad timing

The injury’s timing couldn’t come at the worst possible time as the Knicks are in the thick of a playoff hunt, and Robinson is eligible for a contract extension this summer.

Robinson, who has been durable in his first two seasons —only missing a total of 21 games—has already undergone surgery twice this season. The Knicks went 9-6 without him earlier in the season while recovering from a broken hand. They have lost their last two games since he went down with his latest injury, which he suffered in Milwaukee ironically against Lopez.

The Knicks have signed Norvel Pelle to a 10-day contract for their 14th roster spot as insurance if Nerlens Noel or Taj Gibson misses time. They have pivoted from Andre Drummond, who eventually signed with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, because they are still holding out hope on Robinson.

The Knicks front office wants to see more of Robinson, according to Ian Begley of SNY.

Can Robinson return to old form?

While it may take longer to recover, there’s no evidence to suggest that Robinson will not return his old form.

Lopez, Durant, and Simmons all survived and thrived after the injury. Only Rasheed Wallace, who was 38 and at the tail end of his career in 2013 with the Knicks, was forced to retire because of the same type of injury.

A study on NBA players who suffered Jones fracture from 1994 to 2013 has encouraging results for Robinson.

“Four of the 26 (15%) players did not return to play in a subsequent NBA game after the season in which a Jones fracture was sustained. Twenty-four of 26 (92%) athletes were treated with operative fixation, and three players (12%) underwent secondary reoperation. Recurrence of the injury was experienced by five players (19%),” said the study published online in 2015 in the national library of medicine.

Lopez and Durant were the fourth and fifth NBA players who had re-surgery. Durant even had a third surgery. Simmons avoided it after he underwent a bone marrow injection.

Robinson’s value takes a hit

Robinson has a $1.8 million team option, which the Knicks will likely exercise next season to make him a restricted free agent and buy them some more time to evaluate him.

Some teams were interested in trading for Robinson at the trade deadline, according to Begley. Those teams will likely take a wait-and-see approach after this latest setback in the young big man’s career.

Certainly, Robinson’s market value has taken a hit with his latest injury. But that should be further from Robinson’s mind as he needs to focus on his recovery. His performance after this injury will dictate his next contract—whether that will be with the Knicks or another team.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Brooklyn Nets: History is Meant to be Learned From

New Jersey Nets, Kenny Anderson

Owner Mikhail Prokhorov came in guns blazing following his purchase of the New Jersey Nets in 2010. With brash promises to fans including his infamous “five-year guarantee,” there was immense pressure from the start to build a contender. 

Rather than rebuild around young all-star center Brook Lopez, Prokhorov decided he wanted to make a splash.

This desperation was first displayed in 2011 at the February trade deadline. Looking to acquire Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, the Nets were eventually outbid by the Knicks. Refusing to be overshadowed by his crosstown rival, Prokhorov turned around and dealt for star point guard Deron Williams, who at the time, was considered a premier point guard in the game. To facilitate the deal, the Nets needed to part with all-star point guard Devin Harris, promising former third overall pick Derrick Favors, as well as two likely lottery, picks in years to come. 

Williams was close friends with Dwight Howard, and the two immediately became enamored with the idea of teaming up. Finding a way to acquire Howard would vault the Nets into instant title contenders. The Nets offered four first-round picks and franchise cornerstone Brook Lopez for Howard, but Orlando declined. Content on waiting until Howard became a free agent to sign him, rather than deplete assets, the Nets pulled out of talks. On one fateful plane ride, Howard changed his mind. 

Former Magic guard JJ Redick detailed how casual this decision was. 

“you know what, I love you guys. I’m coming back. And really, that was it! That was it! There was no, like — there wasn’t a heart-to-heart, it was just he was having a good time on the plane and decided he wanted to come back.”

In the blink of an eye, the Nets needed to turn their attention to alternate ways of building a contender around their superstar point guard. 

The 2012 trade deadline marked the Nets’ first desperate attempt to come back from missing out on Howard. A last-minute deal saw the Nets land high-energy forward Gerald Wallace in exchange for negligent pieces and a top-three protected first-rounder. 

Ben Falk, a former Blazers analytics manager, wrote last year on his site Cleaning the Glass that when Portland realized the Nets not only wanted Gerald Wallace badly but were willing to give up a top-three protected first-rounder for him, “My heart hit the gas pedal.” 

That quote has aged like fine wine, contrary to the trade. That draft pick fell at sixth overall and was used to select superstar point guard Damian Lillard. Maybe you’ve heard of him. 

This theme of casual dumping of draft picks for veterans who did not move the needle continues to haunt the Nets to this day. In a salary dump that saw them expel the roster of Troy Murphy, the Nets threw in a second-round pick to sweeten the pot. That pick became Draymond Green. 

The move to Brooklyn in 2012 came with added expectations as it was Prokhorov’s big promise being delivered. The franchise became more marketable and immediately was thrust into a rivalry with the Knicks, who were coming off a successful season that saw them land in the second seed in the Eastern Conference on the backs of Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. The Nets, hoping to compete right away, re-signed Williams, Wallace, and Lopez to deals that would cap-string the team, and traded for Joe Johnson, another high-priced star who was exiting his prime. The trade was contingent on the re-signing of Williams, as Johnson held a no-trade clause and would only be willing to leave if he knew he was going to be playing for a contender. 

The first season with this new core ended in a bitter disaster. After showing promise en route to a 49-33 finish, earning home-court advantage in the first round, the Nets were shocked in the Barclay’s Center in an intense game seven after blowing a 2-1 series lead and a seemingly insurmountable game-four lead that was decimated by Nate Robinson catching fire in a way he hasn’t at any other point in his career. 

The pressure continued to mount for Porkhorov and general manager Billy King. This reached a tipping point on draft night in 2013, when desperation led to the final blow for a Nets roster that had been building disaster for the better part of two years. 

The Nets moved on from four draft picks and offered two pick-swaps, among other pieces, in exchange for 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce, and 36-year-old Jason Terry. This left the Nets with a roster with championship aspirations, but marginal room for error. Every former star needed to perform exceptionally, which did not quite pan out. Instead, the next two seasons became a script for the concept of Murphy’s Law. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. 

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge gave a statement following the trade in regards to Brooklyn’s desire to push for a championship. “So, Brooklyn showed a great deal of interest in putting a Dream Team together at any cost,” he said. 

This desperation left the Nets with little leverage, and thus had every asset possible pulled out from their disposal and fast-tracked the Celtics quest to rebuild. 

When blended together, the Nets five stars were consistent in one thing: underachieving. Williams struggled with injuries, Garnett and Pierce struggled with declining performance related to age, and Lopez was unable to find a role in the offense, which had been just about the only thing keeping him afloat in his career. Johnson provided late-game heroics and consistent clutch performances, but past his prime, he was unable to carry the lineup past Lebron James and the Miami Heat. 

This era came to an abrupt ending, with Pierce leaving after one year, and Garnett being openly unhappy with his long standing running mate. Trading away Garnett for Thaddeus Young left the Nets with nothing from the 2013 trade that gutted their assets, after only 1.5 seasons. 

In the summer of 2015, Williams’ was waived using the stretch provision. This marked the end of his tumultuous tenure with the Nets, one that was defined by inconsistencies and a failure to take the grips of a franchise in need of a savior. Half a season later, Johnson was bought out, ridding the Nets of all of their vaunted starting five except for Brook Lopez, who found himself in a similar position as before the team acquired Williams in the first place. But even Lopez ended up falling victim to the blow-up of the roster, as the team traded him for frustrating headcase D’Angelo Russell, who had a world of potential but couldn’t figure it out under the tutelage of Magic Johnson and the Lakers. 

This era in Nets history will always be remembered with embarrassment by fans, as the toxic culture of the team made them difficult to root for and hard to watch. That being said, if it weren’t for these mistakes, the current roster would not have been possible to obtain. Prokhorov backed off and let his front office do their jobs, completing a full rebuild, and now, even after he has sold the team, the contender he thought he had back in 2013 has taken shape.