NEW YORK -- In news that would be bigger if not for his team's coaching change and his teammate's antisemitism scandal: Ben Simmons will miss the Brooklyn Nets' next two games because of soreness and swelling in his left knee.
Interim coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons would not travel with the Nets to Washington, D.C., where they will visit the Wizards on Friday, or Charlotte, where they will visit the Hornets on Saturday. Their road trip concludes with a game in Dallas on Monday, but Simmons could potentially meet them there and suit up against the Mavericks.
"I'm going to say [he will miss the] first two for sure just because of the back-to-back," Vaughn said, "and then we'll kind of assess and see where he is after that."
Simmons last played on Oct. 29 against the Indiana Pacers, a 125-116 loss in which Brooklyn's defense was "a disaster," in the words of then-coach Steve Nash. He has missed two games since then: a 116-109 win in a rematch against the Pacers and a 108-99 loss against the Chicago Bulls, the latter with Vaughn in Nash's place.
In Simmons' absence, the Nets have started a lineup of Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Royce O'Neale, Kevin Durant and Nic Claxton, which has been awesome in an extremely small sample size. (This five-man unit has logged 36 minutes in four games, with a plus-18.6 point differential -- 105.1 points per 100 possessions on offense, 86.4 per 100 on defense.) They have also relied much more on Yuta Watanabe, a versatile forward who is 6-foot-8 and has shot 7-for-12 from 3-point range in 108 minutes this season. Brooklyn's two most recent games account for almost half of Watanabe's minutes; in both of them, he was the first sub off the bench and he replaced Claxton in the closing lineup.
Simmons did not participate in much on-court activity at Thursday's practice, according to Vaughn: "More so treatment than anything, trying to get that swelling down."
In May, Simmons had back surgery. He missed the entire 2021-22 season due to a combination of injuries, mental health struggles and a holdout. He has played six games for Brooklyn, averaging 6.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.2 steals in 31.8 minutes. Some rust -- and perhaps deference to Durant and Irving -- was inevitable, but there have been a few areas of concern to start the season: Per 100 possessions, Simmons has averaged just 8.5 field goal attempts (his previous career low was 14.7 per 100 in 2020-21) and 3.8 free throw attempts (his previous career low was 5.9 in his rookie season), while committing 6.5 fouls (his previous career high was 4.4 in 2019-20).
When he returns, the Nets hope he will be a lot more assertive on offense and a bit more disciplined on defense. Their starting lineup for the first six games of the season -- Simmons, Irving, O'Neale, Durant and Claxton -- scored 101.5 points per 100 possessions and allowed 115.7 per 100.
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More Nets notes:
- Seth Curry, who is working his way back from a left ankle injury that required surgery in May, will either play against the Wizards or the Hornets but not both ends of the back-to-back. Curry has missed all but one game this season; he made an 18-minute appearance in the loss against Indiana and went scoreless, missing five 3-point attempts.
- T.J. Warren, who is recovering from multiple stress fractures in his left foot and has not played in an NBA game since Dec. 29, 2020, has not progressed to playing 2-on-2 or 3-on-3, according to Vaughn. "He's been getting more shots up," Vaughn said. "He got a workout in this morning on the floor."
- Vaughn said he has no idea how long he will be at the helm. "I was asked to coach [Tuesday]," he said. "I was asked to coach today in practice, I did the same. I'll continue to be professional about what I do, that's what I asked these men to do. And if I'm asked to coach tomorrow then I will." (On Tuesday, team president Sean Marks denied that Brooklyn had decided to hire Ime Udoka, contrary to multiple reports. In September, the Boston Celtics suspended Udoka for one year for an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.)
After this road trip, the Nets will return to Brooklyn to host the "visiting" New York Knicks next Wednesday. They are 2-6 on the season, with the worst defense in the NBA.