When the Brooklyn Nets face the Philadelphia 76ers inside Wells Fargo Center on Thursday, Ben Simmons will be sitting on the visitors' bench wearing street clothes, unavailable to take the court. And the raucous home crowd will make sure he watches the game in uncomfortable silence, as they haven't forgotten how Simmons stirred months of drama with the team and forced his way out.
It's still unclear when the three-time All-Star will make his debut for the Nets. Simmons hasn't played one game this season, and since Brooklyn acquired him at the trade deadline on Feb. 10, he's been sidelined, reportedly dealing with a back injury. In the meantime, the Nets are 33-33 -- stuck as the East's eighth seed -- and running out of time to build much-needed momentum.
"The ramp-up has been a hot topic of conversation," Nets play-by-play voice Ian Eagle told The DA Show on Thursday. "There definitely was an issue with the back, and I think that gave them some pause. And they probably looked at the schedule at some point and said, 'Okay, what's realistic for Simmons?' My sense of it is, next week, you're going to see him in a uniform, playing.
"Does that mean it'll be first-team minutes? Second-team minutes? I'd tend to say the latter. I think that it'll be a slow build for Simmons. And they'll pick and choose their spots -- you know, 18 minutes, 20 minutes -- and just get him to a point where he's comfortable. Only the Nets and Simmons know, physically, where he's at right now and what he's truly capable of doing."
Simmons -- who produced the worst free-throw rate in NBA playoff history in last season's East semis -- is reportedly expected to file a grievance against the Sixers, in an attempt to recoup $20 million that he's lost in fines this year. ESPN reported last month that the 25-year-old had been fined $19 million by Philadelphia for "failing to render services."
According to FiveThirtyEight projections, Brooklyn currently has a 58-percent chance to reach the playoffs, and less than a 1-percent chance to advance to the NBA Finals. Prior to the regular season, those marks were 89-percent and 7-percent, respectively. As for Philadelphia, they have a 17-percent chance to reach the Finals, and a 9-percent chance to celebrate a championship for the first time since 1983.
The entire conversation between Eagle and The DA Show can be accessed in the audio player above.