A day before Thursday night’s NBA Draft, Caris LeVert wrote an open letter to the league’s general managers, asking them — almost pleading with them — to look beyond the obvious.
In the essay, published in the Players’ Tribune, LeVert spoke about losing his dad when he was 15 and calling the police after Darryl LeVert succumbed to a heart attack at 46. He talked about undergoing three surgeries on his left foot in less than two calendar years at the University of Michigan — something that forced him to attend the NBA Combine on crutches. He went from a lottery-type talent to a possible second-round pick because of those injuries. But, he insisted, he is resilient and can impact a team at the game’s highest level.
It turns out, Sean Marks and the Nets were listening.
After trading power forward Thaddeus Young to the Pacers for the 20th overall pick in the draft, the Nets chose LeVert, 21, a 6-7 guard with a load of talent and a lot of questions surrounding his ability to stay healthy. It’s a bid to build for the future in a guard-dominated league. If healthy, LeVert, a shooting guard who also can play the point, offers the Nets the versatility they desperately need.
“I’m really blessed to be in this situation,” he said. “Through the adversity I went through the past couple years, I’m lost for words right now to be here.”
The Nets also added Seton Hall point guard Isaiah Whitehead, from Brooklyn, with the 42nd overall pick.
LeVert, a product of Pickerington, Ohio, missed parts of three collegiate seasons because of injuries and had his latest surgery in March. “I know it’s a lot of work to be put in right now, but I’m just excited to get to this point,” he said.
His talent is indisputable. He was named a preseason All-Big Ten selection in 2014 and 2015 and shot 40.1 percent from three-point range during his college career. LeVert, known for his ballhandling and versatility, averaged 16.9 points and 4.9 assists in his senior year.
Originally slated to have the 55th pick, the Nets were able to take the Utah Jazz’s spot at 42 in exchange for their later pick and cash. That move put them in a prime position to snatch up Whitehead, and, they hope, address a void that’s been there since Deron Williams’ departure in 2015.
“It’s the first step in putting some building blocks in place,” said Marks, who added that he sees Whitehead as a combination guard. “We were really familiar with him, his background, the person he is, and he fits in our group. He fits what we want to be. He fits what we embody — his tenacity, his professionalism. For us, he embodies what Brooklyn grit is all about.”
At his introductory news conference in May, new coach Kenny Atkinson, a former point guard himself, made it clear that the position was a priority.
“I think the point guard is like the NFL quarterback,” he said. “That’s how important the position is.”
Whitehead averaged 18.2 points and 5.1 assists in his sophomore year but backslid in the draft because of a poor performance against Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.
The Nets could not comment on the Young trade because it won’t be official until early July, and the LeVert pick will not be official until the Pacers have the cap space to make the move, but Young said goodbye to Brooklyn on Twitter.
“My family & I would like 2 thank the @BrooklynNets and the Nets fans 4 everything,” he wrote, later tweeting: “Looking forward to new journeys with the @Pacers and the fans.”
Young, who said in May that he had been assured that he would not be traded in the offseason, was one of the few attractive trade chips the Nets had to offer other than big man Brook Lopez. Young averaged 15.1 points and 9.0 rebounds in 73 games in the Nets’ 21-61 season. With the move, the Nets add to their cap space, which is projected to be about $50 million.
The Nets previously traded away this year’s first-round pick to the Celtics in the blockbuster deal in 2013 in which they acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They originally did not have control over their own first-round draft pick until 2019.