The Nets will be seeing more of Ben Simmons soon.
Then they hope to start seeing less of him, as well as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Royce O’Neal and other starters for the first 25 games of the season.
Simmons, who has missed the last three games with a calf strain, is expected to play against the Hornets on Wednesday, but he believes he will be back against the Hawks on Friday.
After a season in Philadelphia that was marred by a back problem (which required offseason surgery) and mental health issues, Simmons hit his stride before the Nov. 28 win over the Magic. In that game, Simmons played both, as well as back-to-back games, his fifth in seven days. In the first four games of a schedule he called “crazy,” Simmons averaged 33.2 minutes.
“I think we will definitely look into it [workload] very different,” Simmons said Tuesday after a day of light practice at Nets practice. “Maybe not [playing] in hindsight or whatever. I think it will be a joint effort with the training staff and myself.
Head coach Jacque Vaughan approved the expected time reduction for Simmons and several of his teammates. Durant, the team’s only all-time star, leads the NBA in minutes. O’Neill, who has never left the starting lineup, finished second in the category on Tuesday. Irving was suspended for eight games, but the point guard averaged 38.7 minutes over the last six games.
The Nets (13-12) needed every second of their best players to get above .500, but Vaughn acknowledged the current pace is unsustainable.
“Ideally, we don’t want Kevin to play that many minutes up front. And hopefully we’ll get to a point where Ben’s minutes aren’t what they were, and Kay’s minutes aren’t what they were,” Vaughn said Wednesday before the Nets’ sixth game of a seven-game homestand. “[We hope] We’ve got some depth where we can share some of those minutes between a few guys moving forward and trying to get what we want to accomplish once the playoffs start.
If the Nets can get healthy — with Simmons on the doorstep and Yuta Watanabe not far away, as well as TJ Warren, who returned last week — it will be easier to manage minutes, which will be especially important for Simmons.
No guard/centre has played more than 58 games in a season since 2018/19. He missed his entire rookie campaign after foot surgery, had back and knee problems in 2019-20, including knee surgery, and had more knee problems the following season.
He didn’t play at all last season and came back rusty and timid, but he’s starting to look like he was before the calf problem — an offensive creator and versatile, shutdown defender.
Simmons said the time off was “very frustrating” but allowed him to build muscle around his calf.
“You just have to be smart,” said Simmons, who averaged 8.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 17 games. “It’s about getting healthy at the end of the year. You want your guys to be healthy and ready to go.”
Vonn is trying to conserve the team’s strength and legs in more subtle ways, including skipping Tuesday’s official practice, which he called a “take what you need” day. Out-of-rotation players could work on the field, while others could see a hurler or a trainer or a massage therapist. In addition, the Nets will not play an early morning game on Wednesday before facing Charlotte.
Durant has led the Nets for more than a quarter of the season, and Vaughn said the team needs to see some wins to help everyone buy into the program.
As Simmons nears his return, the Nets hope to return to a more reasonable distribution of minutes.
“It takes everybody. Some kids might not play overnight,” Simmons said. “We’ve got to make sacrifices and do whatever we can to win games.”