The Brooklyn Nets took the court without Caris LeVert on Wednesday night, but the third-year guard remained the center of attention two nights after injuring his right foot in frightening fashion Monday night in Miami, with general manager Sean Marks on hand to address the injury and its effect on the team.
While the sight of LeVert's right foot dislocation left teammates and coaches shaken in the moment and after the game on Monday night, the diagnosis that he would not require surgery, announced Tuesday, changed the outlook dramatically.
"If you take the two ends of the spectrum, him lying on the floor, probably in a state of shock ... to learning that it's not as bad as he thought or we thought, I can't imagine putting myself in his shoes, I can't imagine the two ends of the spectrum he went through," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "He's an optimistic kid. He really has an even keel about him. That helped him through the emotions and the injury."
LeVert was at the arena prior to the game Wednesday, and teammates described him as being in a positive mood.
"It's a credit to the young man that Caris is when you're having conversations now how upbeat he is," said Marks. "He was in here with his teammates earlier today which is terrific. He wants to be around the team and obviously he's welcome as much as he can. A little inhibited by his mobility now, but it's terrific to see him around."
There was no timetable offered for LeVert's eventual return. The Nets returned to Brooklyn after a four-game road trip with a 6-8 record, and LeVert's play had been a significant bright spot over the first month of the season. In a full-time starting role for the first time, LeVert was averaging 18.4 points, 4.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game.
He had already matched or exceeded his previous career high in scoring three times and scored two game-winning baskets in 14 games.
"It's extremely frustrating for everybody," said Marks. "I feel for that locker room. Those guys are in that bunker together. They've certainly bonded. People have commented on it, written about it, and their own comments. That's a great credit to the players. As we've always said, we want this to be player driven, and those guys support each other. They hold each other accountable, they police each other, and it's a great common bond those guys have got in there. I don't think anything will take away from that. I think losing Caris for a while will be hard, but it will be a great opportunity for the rest of the guys in that locker room to seize this opportunity and bounce back."
In LeVert's absence, Allen Crabbe drew his first start of the season. With Jarrett Allen out for the second game in a row due to illness, Ed Davis started at center for the first time this season after Rondae Hollis-Jefferson got the start in Allen's place on Monday, but the 6-foot-7 Hollis-Jefferson continued to see significant minutes at center.
The Nets were already working DeMarre Carroll back into the rotation with the veteran forward returning from ankle surgery last Friday in Denver.
"It’s a domino effect," said Atkinson. "It goes right down the line. It effects your bigs, too. You get a guy out of the rotation, a guy that’s playing 32 minutes; 32 minutes a game you’ve got to figure out how you fill that. That can affect the bigs, too. You might have to play small some. It just changes things up.
“And then guys get opportunities, bigger opportunities than they’ve had previously. But ideally no one has to be a hero here. We just all have to come together as a team and if all of us do a little bit more to cover for Caris’ absence, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
However the lineups shake out or adapt, the Nets are looking forward to the opportunity bring LeVert back before the end of the season, a possibility that seemed quite unlikely at halftime on Monday night.
"When they put his ankle back in place and he flew on the plane, I think everyone knew that was a good sign," said Davis. "Then, when it came out yesterday that he wasn’t having surgery, that was a great sign. Not being selfish, I want him to play this year and finish it out because I definitely think we can make a playoff push, but for his career, if he had been out for a year, that’s a tough, tough, tough injury to come back from, especially with what he’s been through and he was playing well this year. So, I’m just really happy for him that he can rehab and get back whenever he’s right."