A little more than a year ago when the Nets were stealing the spotlight of the free-agent market with the acquisition of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, along with veteran big man DeAndre Jordan, it was clear who would be the leaders for the playoff push.
When the plans were hatched, even with the knowledge that Durant was likely to sit out the entire season, there were plenty of veterans with playoff experience who would lead the way. But now, as the Nets find themselves readying for the eight-game seeding schedule and likely playoff start, it is Caris LeVert, who has started just 86 games over his four seasons in the NBA, being looked at to fill that role.
LeVert is unmistakably talented, but his NBA career, like his four seasons at Michigan, have been marked by injuries that hampered his progress. He has never had to be the one to shoulder the brunt, not just the load, as scorer and facilitator but also as a voice in the locker room.
Now, in the Orlando bubble, it is LeVert at 25 years old who is the leader of a roster that is still being pieced together.
“I think it’s like anything else,” LeVert said in a Zoom call Monday. “The more experience you have I think just the more comfortable you are going through it, kind of help other people and bring them along. Honestly, it’s been fun. I can’t wait until the games start.”
“His years at Michigan definitely helped him get to this point, to be able to overcome injuries then, to overcome injuries here in the league, and I think that shows an unbelievable amount of resilience, where his career is now,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “The fact that he was incredibly excited about coming to the bubble and competing and I think that just shows volumes about his character and who he is and how he loves playing the game of basketball.”
LeVert averaged 17.7 points per game, but he flourished over the last eight games before the season was suspended in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. He averaged 25.5 points per game in that span, including a 34-point performance against Washington and a 51-point effort against Boston. He had a 27-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double against San Antonio and then scored 22 points in a win over the Lakers.
The Nets are not only without Durant and Irving, but also Spencer Dinwiddie is sitting out the return after testing positive for COVID-19.
“There’s definitely more responsibility, more freedom out there as well,” LeVert said. “It’ll definitely be fun. We’ve got some new guys on the team to integrate into the offense and things like that. Everyone’s learning each and every day, so it’ll be an experience for everybody, for sure.”
LeVert, who will wear “Black Lives Matter” on his jersey for the restart of the season, said he has focused on the task at hand and was planning a quiet day off Tuesday.
“For off-day, I’ll probably just chill,” he said. “We’re here inside the bubble, so there’s not much to do. So, I’ll just get some rest.”
Notes & quotes: The Nets announced the signing of Lance Thomas for the remainder of the season. But they lost Michael Beasley, who tested positive for COVID-19, a league source confirmed. He is the eighth Nets player to test positive and has returned home . . . The Nets have not confirmed that they will sign Justin Anderson yet as a replacement for Wilson Chandler, but Anderson, who averaged 20.6 points per game in the G League this season and had a 10-day contract with the Nets, appeared to confirm he will join the team. Anderson spoke on the J Willy Show podcast Monday and said, “I just got to Orlando (Sunday), following protocol. I had a negative test, waiting on the next result. I have to get another one. Very strict protocol, but it’s all worth it just to make sure entering the bubble everything is clean and clear for everybody who’s already in there, and myself as well. So I’m back in Orlando right now.”