LeVert Feeling Grateful After Trying Week
Caris LeVert was taking a pregame nap last Wednesday afternoon when he woke up to his phone blowing up. He had "hundreds" of missed calls and text messages and an incoming call from Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks.
He quickly answered and Marks informed him that he was being traded to Indiana in a four-team deal that would bring James Harden to Brooklyn and send Victor Oladipo to Houston.
The shock of being traded was nothing compared to what he would find out in the coming days. LeVert's physical with the Pacers revealed a small mass on his left kidney, a stunning revelation for a 26-year-old NBA player seemingly in peak physical condition.
"It's definitely been some trying times for sure, for myself and my family," LeVert told the Indianapolis media via Zoom on Tuesday afternoon. "From being traded to finding out the news about my body and what's going on.
"I think (out of) everything, I'm very grateful for such support I've received from not only the Pacers players, but the front office and the fans and everybody associated with this program."
After a trade is agreed upon, it is standard practice for each team to conduct physicals with the players they are receiving before the deal becomes official. Those physicals usually include scans on high-stress areas, like the knees and lower back.
An MRI of LeVert's back revealed the mass on his kidney. That resulted in many additional conversations between LeVert, his family, doctors, and the Pacers' front office. The trade officially went through on Saturday afternoon and just over an hour later the team released statements from LeVert and President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard that revealed the mass.
LeVert said on Tuesday that he does not yet know if the mass is cancerous. He is waiting for the results of additional tests before determining any potential next steps, including surgery.
For now, LeVert is out indefinitely and has no timeline for when he can return to the court.
"For me, the most important thing is to get my body healthy and make sure I live a long life," he said. "Before basketball, I think that's the most important thing, so for me I'm not really looking at (the basketball) side of things.
"Obviously I want to play as soon as possible. I'm a competitor, I love the game, but for me I think making sure I'm good health-wise is most important right now."
The initial news was shocking to LeVert, who had played in every game this season for the Nets and felt "100 percent healthy." He had never experienced any lower back pain, so he was particularly surprised to learn that it was a scan of his back that uncovered the underlying issue.
"A lot of things creeped through my mind," LeVert said. "I didn't really know what was going on, I didn't know the next steps, I didn't know if the trade was going to go through. But obviously it did and I think that's a testament to this organization. Not only how good of people they are, but how much they believe in me and my game. That was huge for me to see that."
LeVert has been in close communication with Pritchard and the Pacers' front office. Head coach Nate Bjorkgren visited him at his hotel in Indianapolis on Monday after the team arrived back in town earlier that morning from a West Coast road trip. LeVert then attended Tuesday's practice at the Ascension St. Vincent Center, where he met his new teammates.
"His spirits are great, just a very good individual," Bjorkgren said. "Just his character, you can see it in his eyes, his positivity, the way he carries himself. The guys are loving having him here.'
Pritchard also praised LeVert's positivity over the weekend, saying he was blown away by how well LeVert took what could be seen as devastating news.
LeVert is no stranger to adversity. His father, Darryl, died of a heart attack when he was just 15 years old and his mother, Kim, has multiple sclerosis.
"I've been through a lot, not only with basketball, but with life in general," LeVert said. "Obviously it was tough news to get, but it could always be worse. I kind of look at it like that – I try to look at the positive out of every situation. It's something that I have the support of my family.
"I'm definitely humbled to know that this trade could have possibly saved me in the long run."
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LeVert grew up in the Columbus, Ohio area, so the trade will bring him closer to his mother. His younger brother has been living with him and will continue to do so.
The trade will also bring him closer to Butler coach LaVall Jordan. Jordan was an assistant coach on John Beilein's staff while LeVert attended the University of Michigan. LeVert said Jordan is "one of my favorite coaches ever," someone he spoke with regularly even before he found out he was moving to Indianapolis.
While he does not know when he will be able to take the court again, LeVert expressed excitement to be joining the Pacers, who coincidentally drafted him in 2016, though the team had already agreed to trade the pick to Brooklyn for Thaddeus Young.
"I'm extremely blessed to be playing for such a great organization, a great city, a basketball city," LeVert said. "I'm from the Midwest, so I know what Indiana basketball is all about and I'm very blessed to be a part of it.
"I've played (at Bankers Life Fieldhouse) a couple times in college for the Big Ten Tournament. I love the atmosphere here, I love the fans here. They love their basketball. That's what I'm all about – I just love the game. I can't wait to be immersed in the culture."
While he won't be on the court with his new teammates just yet, LeVert hopes to use his time away from the game to learn the ins and outs of Bjorkgren's system, so he's ready to hit the ground running when doctors give him clearance.
"I love the guys on this team," he said. "Very high-character, high-intelligence guys that can play multiple positions. Guys that make the right play, that are highly skilled. I can't wait to fit in with this group."