The litany of long-term injuries suffered by the Nets over the past four seasons has been a never-ending story. After missing much of the 2016-17 season, Jeremy Lin suffered a season-ending injury in the 2017-18 opener, and D’Angelo Russell later lost 10 weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery. Last season, Caris LeVert missed 42 games after dislocating an ankle. This season, LeVert has missed the past 19 games after thumb surgery, and Kyrie Irving has missed the past 17 with a shoulder injury.
Oh yeah, and the Nets signed free-agent Kevin Durant to a four-year deal worth $164 million knowing he likely will miss this entire season while recovering from right Achilles tendon surgery.
Does that have a familiar ring? It should after David Nwaba suffered an eerily similar torn right Achilles tendon in a non-contact situation during the Nets’ 118-105 loss to the Spurs on Thursday night in San Antonio. Nwaba underwent season-ending surgery on Friday to repair the tendon, leaving the Nets more shorthanded than ever going into a game against the Hawks on Saturday night at Barclays Center.
“It’s hard,” center Jarrett Allen said after the Spurs game. “It feels like something happens to us every year. Last year, it was Caris, this year, it’s David. It’s always tough having to play after losing a teammate . . . Honestly, a lot of us were just speechless. You just wanted to turn your head. You feel sorry for him.”
The Nets blew a 14-point lead against the Spurs and wasted Spencer Dinwiddie’s career-high 41-point game, but that hardly mattered by comparison to Nwaba’s misfortune. A grim-faced Nwaba, still wearing his uniform, made his way through the postgame locker room on crutches assisted by a trainer.
Describing the impact such a severe injury had on the Nets, Joe Harris got a little choked up.
“We’re fortunate to be in this position to play a game. But at the end of the day, it’s a job, and you don’t want to see a guy not have the ability to come to work and provide [for his family],” Harris said. “It’s extremely difficult, it weighs on you. It’s very emotional.”
Over the previous nine games, Nwaba emerged as an efficient two-way contributor off the bench, playing hard-nosed defense and averaging 9.0 points per game while shooting .525 from the field and .478 from three-point range.
“It’s tough considering what we’re already dealing with without our three best players [Durant, Irving and LeVert],” Dinwiddie said. “The guys that are supposed to lead us are down . . . [Nwaba] is one of the most valuable guys on the team, heart and soul of the defense on the second unit. It’s not easy.”
Coach Kenny Atkinson said young players such as Rodions Kurucs or Dzanan Musa will have to step up. Dinwiddie guessed the Nets might bring Iman Shumpert back, and ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted they can apply for a hardship exception for a 16th roster spot after their game next Saturday in Houston if the NBA deems that Irving and LeVert aren’t coming back for another two weeks.
The Nets are used to handling major injuries, but that doesn’t mean it won’t take an emotional toll.
“Everybody is going to feel it,” Dinwiddie said. “We already feel it, but we have no choice . . . We have  games left and we’re the seventh seed right now, and you could easily argue we should be a four or a five. So, keep playing.”