Brooklyn Nets' Caris LeVert Ready to Work His Way Back
Nets guard discusses last week's foot injury for first time
One week after his season was interrupted, Caris LeVert discussed the injury that left his teammates and coaches shaken and drew scores of notes of sympathy and encouragement from around the NBA after a Brooklyn Nets practice session Monday afternoon at HSS Training Center.
The ultimate diagnosis of a dislocated ankle, with no surgery required, was surprising and encouraging to anybody that saw the way LeVert's foot twisted as he fell to the court in Minnesota.
The third-year guard had his own emotions swinging in real time as he felt, and then saw, what had happened.
"I think the first thing I thought was, man, that's a bad sprain, I probably won't be able to play any more today, before actually looking at it," said LeVert. "The pain level just felt like a regular sprain, and I know I kind of fell on the side of my ankle. And obviously when I looked at it, I was like, wow, that's messed up."
It was the final seconds of the first half as LeVert chased down the Timberwolves' Jeff Teague in transition. He already had 10 points, five assists and four rebounds in the books, well on the way to another big night in a breakout opening month to the season that was drawing attention throughout the league.
He finally caught up to Teague on his leap, but spun in the air and didn't land squarely on his foot. LeVert was down on the floor for several minutes, the arena quiet, his teammates stricken, before he was taken off the floor.
"When they carted me off the court and then we went in the back, they kind of, they had to put it back in place," said LeVert. "That was actually really painful. That was probably the most painful part of it all. And then they took me to the hospital. We had some tests done there, I think some scans done, and then they told me that they didn't really see anything major, aside from the dislocation, but they would let me know the next day. We were getting more tests done at the hospital here in New York. So when I heard that, I was pretty relieved, and then obviously the next day I was very relieved."
LeVert's ability to fly home with the team that night was one of the first signs his teammates said they saw that the injury might not be as serious as it first looked. And the next day, the organization announced the diagnosis from Dr. Martin O'Malley that LeVert wouldn't need surgery.
But he's still sidelined after that scintillating start. The Nets believed they found an underrated gem with the 20th selection in the 2016 draft, and the beginning of the 2018-19 season offered the signs of a payoff for a young player who had already battled back from injuries. In 14 games, he's averaging 18.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
LeVert opened up by matching his career high with 27 points in Detroit, then scored 28 and the game-winner against the Knicks in the home opener. He went up the ladder again for 29 against Houston, then opened Brooklyn's four-game road trip with 26 points in Phoenix and another game-winner in Denver.
Seventy-two hours later, he was being carted off the court in Minnesota.
"I think initially I was frustrated," said LeVert. "Felt like it wasn't fair. But everything happens for a reason. It's not a very, very serious injury to the point where the way I play basketball will be different. Feel like I'll still be the same player, I'll be a better player when I come back. I feel like maybe the time off is the best thing for me, maybe it's the best for the team. I just try to find the positives in every situation, and hopefully come out of this stronger mentally and physically."
Two days after the injury, LeVert was at Barclays Center before the Nets played the Miami Heat, though he left prior to the game. But for the most part, he's been around the team for the last week, as he and coach Kenny Atkinson aim to keep him as integrated as possible.
"He's been in film," said Atkinson. "I think it's important that he's involved in what we're doing, he's not separated. Not traveling yet. That's kind of the next step, keep him with the group as much as possible."
"When you're out, you get to see things from a different lens, kind of from a coach's perspective," said LeVert, who did not make the trip for the back-to-back in Miami and Dallas. "So I think this time out will definitely be good for me just to see the team from a different view. Try to give my opinions here and there, try to help out as much as I can, and then when I come back I think I'll be that much sharper, that much smarter."
He's been through this before with the Brooklyn performance team. LeVert underwent three surgeries on his right foot while still at Michigan, interrupting both his junior and senior seasons. He was still rehabbing as he visited teams prior to the 2016 NBA Draft. He missed NBA Summer League that first year and made his NBA debut about six weeks into the season, playing 57 games as a rookie.
"Unfortunately I've done a similar rehab to this, with the lower extremity injury," said LeVert. "So I kind of know what to expect a little bit. So I think I'm a little bit ahead of it. But I'm anxious to get started."
In the aftermath of the injury, LeVert received plenty of direct messages and even calls from fellow players. He doesn't even know how some of them even got his number. But he also sent a message out, a text to teammate D'Angelo Russell.
His own message of encouragement was direct.
"We have everything we need, even with me going down I feel like we have all the pieces we need," said LeVert. "We just need everything from everybody. I feel that way. I feel like if everybody contributes, if everybody gives that one more percent, I feel like we'll be in good shape."