Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown expects Ben Simmons will play if the NBA resumes next month in Orlando, but concedes the Australian All-Star might not be 100 per cent fit
Simmons suffered a pinched nerve in his back on February 22, missed the next eight games and appeared in doubt for the playoffs until the COVID-19 pandemic shut the NBA season down on March 11.
Simmons' health is key to the inconsistent 76ers' chances of winning the championship.
"My opinion, and this is not confirmed yet, is that we are going to be able to inch him back into this," Brown told Sports Illustrated.
"Is he going to be 100 per cent?
"I don't expect that.
"But I think he is going to be available."
The NBA season is scheduled to restart on July 31 at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
A "bubble" will be created at the resort to limit the exposure of players, coaches and other officials to COVID-19, including playing games without spectators.
The shutdown could benefit the 76ers, who were on a downward spiral when the season paused.
Simmons was injured, the talented squad had dropped to sixth position in the weak Eastern Conference and lost 24 of 34 road games.
Las Vegas bookmakers consider the 76ers a decent championship threat, rating them the sixth best chance to take the title.
This is despite the 76ers' dismal road record and the fact the season will be played away from the comfort of their Philadelphia home court.
The bookies only rate the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics as better chances than the 76ers to win the Eastern Conference.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the overall title favourites, just ahead of the Bucks, and LA Clippers.
The 76ers' other major question mark is the fitness and attitude of All-Star centre Joel Embiid.
Embiid told NBA.com he had been working out six times a week during the pandemic.
"I have something to prove," Embiid said.
"Whenever the opportunity comes, it's going to be my time."
Anything but a championship will be a disappointment for the 76ers after the team spent almost $US500 million ($A722 million) before the season on three players - Simmons (five-year, $US169.6 ($A245.0) million contract extension), Tobias Harris (five-year, $US180 ($A260) million) and Al Horford (four-year, $US109 ($A157) million).
If they fail to win the title in Orlando, or the Eastern Conference, Brown will likely lose his job and there will be calls to trade Simmons.
Brown also concedes fears about COVID-19 might hamper some players.
"A real fear is the question of if guys want to be there," Brown said.
"None of us can dismiss that - it's human nature.
"Coming out of a pandemic, to assume everyone will be gung ho about going would be very naive."
Australian Associated Press