With Nets depleted because of injuries and pandemic, Caris LeVert embraces challenge of being leader
When the NBA season came to a screeching halt on March 11 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so did the hottest stretch of Caris LeVert’s four-year career. After missing 24 games while recovering from a right thumb injury, LeVert got on a roll that indicated he possesses the talent to become the so-called “third star” the Nets need to pair with injured superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the future.
Over the final 16 games the Nets (30-34) played, LeVert averaged 24.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 44.7% overall and 41.3% from three-point range. He scored a career-high 51 points in a win over the Celtics in Boston and recorded his first triple-double in a win over the Spurs.
With Durant and Irving sidelined, DeAndre Jordan testing positive for the virus and opting out of the return to play in Orlando and leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie’s status uncertain while recovering from the virus, the depleted Nets must look to LeVert to lead them as they try to maintain their seventh-seeded position in the Eastern Conference standings and make the playoffs.
“For me, it’s just taking on that challenge of being a leader, being the leader of that group, going down there with some of the most experience on the team, playoff experience,” LeVert said on Friday in a video conference with reporters. “I feel like I relish these types of opportunities and situations. I’m looking forward to going down there and seeing what we can do.”
At the same time, LeVert understands the job of leading not only is complicated by the unusual circumstances of playing in a “bubble” at Disney World to protect players’ health, but also there is an emphasis for many on supporting the Black Lives Matter protests for racial equality and justice. Focusing on basketball will be difficult in such uncertain times.
“Obviously, some people losing family members to coronavirus and other people being affected differently by social justice, there’s definitely a lot going on in the world right now and basketball is very minor compared to those things,” LeVert said. “We definitely have a privilege of playing a game and being paid during these times, but there’s definitely bigger problems going on in the world.”
LeVert said he participated in “four or five marches” during the NBA shutdown, and he has been an active participant in discussions with teammates, family and friends about racial issues and police brutality after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, where an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
"This story kind of resonated with myself or my family because that definitely could have been me out there, could have been one of my family members out there,” LeVert said. “Myself, my little brother, my cousins have all been victims of racist police or prejudice, getting pulled over and having to search the car for no reason. That kind of put everything into perspective.”
While in quarantine, LeVert took advantage of the time to build more strength, and because his hair grew out so much, he had it styled in cornrows as a tribute to Allen Iverson, his favorite player growing up. LeVert also said he is planning to make a political statement on his jersey but hasn’t yet settled on a message.
In any case, he must lead a team that not only is shorthanded but is short in general because backup forward Wilson Chandler opted out for family reasons and backup center Nic Claxton underwent shoulder surgery.
“With new personnel, everyone’s role is going to be a little different, everyone’s going to be asked to do a little more,” LeVert said. “It will definitely be a challenge…Hopefully, everyone is ready for that task.”