The Nets have played their first game with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving together in the same lineup, but they have one more ingredient to add. That would be Caris LeVert, who missed their preseason opener against the Wizards on Sunday.
LeVert sat out with a bruised patella tendon but returned to practice on Tuesday and is expected to play in their only other preseason game Friday night in Boston.
"The knee’s good," LeVert said. "I feel good. Excited about starting the season. I feel like we did a good job last game. I can’t wait to get out there and contribute."
Many have suggested LeVert might be the so-called "third star" for the Nets alongside Durant and Irving. But first-year coach Steve Nash recently came up with another descriptor, suggesting LeVert could become the Nets’ version of Manu Ginobili, who came off the bench for the Spurs as a great sixth man on championship teams led by Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.
The way Nash put it, that would be a good way to put the ball into LeVert’s hands if he were the point guard running the second unit for long stretches before finishing with Durant, Irving and Spencer Dinwiddie, who might replace him as the starting shooting guard. LeVert made it clear he is ready to do whatever Nash asks.
"Just buying into any role," LeVert said. "I feel like it’s just a mindset, a mentality. Whether you’re starting or coming off the bench, I feel like my game is very versatile, so, I can do both things. I’m excited about the challenge that each of them brings, and I’m excited about starting the season. I’m just excited to play basketball."
LeVert is coming off his fourth NBA season in which he averaged 18.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists, all career-highs. But he was especially good during the NBA re-start following the shutdown last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the 10 games he played in the NBA "bubble" in Orlando when the Nets were missing not only Durant and Irving but also Dinwiddie and Taurean Prince, both of whom started most of last season, LeVert stepped up by averaging 23.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists.
He was an absolute revelation with the ball in his hands as the starting point guard, but that could pose a problem if he starts next to Irving. LeVert described the sixth man role as a "minor adjustment" and said it could be a positive change.
"You get a chance to examine the game from a different perspective, see how the defense is playing certain actions, see how they’re guarding different ball screens, transition, things like that," LeVert said. "You see which guys have it going so when you get in the game, you can kind of make that adjustment. You can kind of give energy where it’s needed. I’m looking forward to the challenge if that’s what it’s going to be, and if not, then, we’ll adjust accordingly."
Since proposing the sixth man role for LeVert, Nash actually backed off and suggested LeVert, Dinwiddie and starting small forward Joe Harris might rotate in the starting shooting guard and small forward roles. However they are utilized, all three must play a supporting role behind Durant and Irving, who will dominate the ball.
"That’s kind of how we’ve been playing the past couple of months [in workouts]," LeVert said. "I’m kind of versatile. I can play with the ball, play without the ball. I can play pretty much any role that I’m put in. Steve and I will talk more about it. I think everyone’s main goal right now is winning basketball games and putting us in the best position to do so."