stephen a. smith
Tori Lynn Schneider | USA TODAY NETWORK

Stephen A. Smith is pulling no punches.

The ESPN analyst crushed Ben Simmons on Sunday after the Nets scrapped the mercurial star’s much-hyped debut in rather predictable fashion.

I feel bad for anyone who was his teammate,” Smith said. “He quit on LSU, he quit on the Philadelphia 76ers and now he ain’t showing up for the Brooklyn Nets. We can point to all the excuses, all the rationale that we want to. I do recall despite him not playing, he still filed a grievance to collect $20 million he has not earned.

“This is one of the most pathetic situations that I’ve ever seen in my life. He ain’t going to war, he ain’t going in the octagon, he’s not going into a boxing ring. It’s pulling teeth to get this man to play basketball. It’s pathetic, it’s sad.”

Simmons was set to finally take the floor for Monday’s playoff game against the Celtics at Barclays Center. But after the Nets fell to Boston on Saturday to fall behind 3-0 in the best-of-seven first-round series, Game 4 suddenly became off the table for Simmons due to “back soreness.”

“The Nets and Ben Simmons expected he would be ready to play on Monday, but after getting on the court [Saturday] Simmons says he awoke with back soreness [Sunday],” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted. “In the end, the team and Simmons agreed he’ll remain out for Game 4.”

Even if the Nets win and manage to hold off elimination for another day, it is hard to imagine Simmons would play in a Game 5 (or beyond, if the Nets somehow can get there). Which means he won’t have played in an NBA game in well over a year when the Nets report to training camp for the 2022-23 season, presumably with a new head coach — Steve Nash is a dead man walking — and a clearly failed experiment with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.