After running and shooting without back pain for over a week, Brooklyn Nets star Ben Simmons is expected to take the next step on the floor in the coming week and begin practicing against teammates on the court, sources told ESPN on Saturday.
His continued progress is fostering hope that Simmons could make his season debut sometime later in Brooklyn's opening-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, sources said. The Nets and Celtics meet for Game 1 on Sunday in Boston.
So far, Simmons has been limited to 1-on-0 workouts, but that's on track to change and the Nets remain hopeful that they can get something out of Simmons in this series, even if it's just 10 to 15 minutes a game, sources said.
Simmons was "still on his individual program" Saturday, according to Brooklyn coach Steve Nash, who said he believes contact practices are the next step.
"I would presume," Nash said. "That's not my job as far as the rehab and all that, but clearly to play in an NBA game you got to have some contact and play the game a little bit."
Simmons appeared to be in good spirits after the Saturday practice. He asked a reporter to make sure his video was rolling and then proceeded to put down a dunk.
"There you go," Simmons said as he made his way off the floor.
Simmons had an epidural shot in mid-March to subdue pain and irritation associated with a herniated disk in his lower back.
"I think clearly he's improving," Nash said. "But I have no idea if he's getting close to playing or not."
Simmons' teammates are taking the same approach as Nash -- they'll be happy if Simmons appears at some point in this series, but they are preparing as if he won't be there.
"Having him back obviously would be very big for our team if we're all on the same page," Nets center Andre Drummond said. "Ben is a very good basketball player. So if we got him back, great. If not, we still got to hold it down and play the game that we know."
The Nets acquired Simmons in a blockbuster deal with the Philadelphia 76ers at the February trade deadline, but he has yet to play an NBA game since the Eastern Conference finals in June. Simmons wanted a trade out of Philadelphia, eventually sitting out citing his mental health.
Simmons, 25, is a three-time All-Star and two-time All-Defensive first-team selection.
Information from ESPN's Nick Friedell was used in this report.