DENVER – For the third time in four seasons with the Nets, Caris LeVert has suffered an injury that required surgery. Before the Nets faced the Nuggets at Pepsi Center on Thursday night, they announced that earlier in the day, LeVert underwent successful surgery to repair ligaments in his right thumb.
The procedure was performed by Dr. Michelle Carlson at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. The Nets offered no timetable for LeVert’s return, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski cited “sources” and reported he will be out four to six weeks. If that’s the case and LeVert is out at least until Christmas, he might miss as many as 20 games.
“Surgery went well,” Atkinson said. “I feel for Caris. It’s a bad break. It’s a big blow for us. He was our best perimeter defender on that first unit…Spencer [Dinwiddie] could play a bigger role, and we have [Dzanan] Musa off the bench.”
LeVert started the first nine games at two-guard and is averaging 16.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 31.6 minutes per game. He suffered the injury in Sunday’s loss at Phoenix and was replaced in the starting lineup in Tuesday’s loss at Utah by Garrett Temple. The loss of LeVert is expected to create more playing time for an Musa, but the Nets also signed free agent former Iman Shumpert to play a backup role, and he joined the Nets Thursday night in Denver.
“He fits a need,” Atkinson said of Shumpert. He’s a perimeter defender. I know him well from when he and I were with the Knicks. He gets after it…He’s an aggressive person by natures. He forces turnovers, which we’re not great at.”
Shumpert recalled that Atkinson was his position coach with the Knicks, and they worked out before every game. He also has been teammates with Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris in the past, so there is a sense of familiarity.
“It’s comfortable, but there’s also mutual respect,” Shumpert said about working with faces he knows well. Kenny was my guard coach and used to work with me 30 to 45 minutes before games. It feels like I’ve come full circle. It’s a great group of guys.”
Losing LeVert is a huge blow for a team that has been struggling to adjust to several new veteran additions. But the Nets can look at last season when LeVert suffered a dislocated ankle in their 14th game when he was leading the team in scoring. He missed the next 42 games, but the Nets managed to go 23-19 in that span.
Atkinson praised the job Temple did in a five-point loss to the Jazz, but he acknowledged the Nets’ struggles through 10 games. “We are where we are,” Atkinson said. “We’re 4-6, we’re below average. I think there’s positive things for us to build on. Our defense has to improve for us to take another step. But 4-6 is 4-6. We are below average.
“I do think we’re building something with the new group. I feel good about our process, I feel good about our system, I feel good about our players. These are tough games, the Utahs and Denvers on the road.”
Although the Nets got blown out in Phoenix, they opened their current five-game trip with a win in Portland and had a chance in Utah. “We’re playing great teams closely,” Temple said. “The foundation is there. We’ve just got to get over that hump. It’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of vets that understand that just like you go on runs during the game, in the season, there are runs.”
But without LeVert for the moment, it feels like a run of bad luck for the Nets.