At the NBA trade deadline on Thursday, the Nets announced they had acquired guard Caris LeVert from, you know, their own injured list.
Despite a variety of reports linking the Nets to various trade discussions, general manager Sean Marks made only one minor deal for a draft pick, figuring the return of LeVert after a 42-game absence to recover from a dislocated right ankle was the most impactful move his club could make.
The Nets acquired a 2021 second-round draft pick and forward Greg Monroe from the Raptors for cash considerations, then waived Monroe. Ultimately, Marks was content to stick with the current roster and bank on the return of injured players for a boost.
Coach Kenny Atkinson’s excitement was palpable when he told the media that LeVert is ready to play for the first time since suffering the gruesome injury Nov. 12 in Minnesota at a time when he was the Nets’ leading scorer (18.4). The medical team, performance team and coaches agree that he is ready to face the Bulls on Friday night at Barclays Center.
“Most importantly, he’s ready to go,” Atkinson said. “He really came up to me and said, ‘I’m ready.’
“I’m happy he’s healthy. I just want him to enjoy being out there, and we’ll take what we can get. It’s just good news. We’ll build him up. We’re not going to rush this thing. Be smart about it.”
LeVert’s return follows by one game the return of Allen Crabbe after missing 26 games with a sore right knee and the return of Joe Harris from sitting out his second recent game with a sore hip. Jared Dudley has said he is close to returning from a hamstring injury, and Spencer Dinwiddie, who recently underwent thumb surgery, was at the Nets’ practice facility on Thursday doing a conditioning workout. He is expected to return in the next two to four weeks.
“It’s almost like we’re signing these really good free agents for nothing,” Atkinson said. “They’re on our roster. We know what they bring to the table. The challenge for me obviously is to figure out the minutes.”
Asked how it felt to be the Nets’ trade-deadline acquisition, LeVert smiled and said, “No, I don’t feel like that. I’m just excited to get out there and help the team.
“Being out three months, there’s obviously going to be a period where it feels different just because I’ve been away from the game, but I feel like I prepared myself really well . . . I’ve gotten a lot better. I worked on my body a lot, and I tried to stick to my routine, watching film, doing things like that.”
The Nets were 6-8 but went into a 2-10 tailspin ending with eight straight losses after LeVert’s injury. Then they won seven straight games and now are sixth in the Eastern Conference at 29-27 with three games left before the All-Star break.
It’s uncertain how much of an immediate impact LeVert might make, but he’s stepping into a great situation as the Nets prepare to make a surprising playoff push to the break and beyond. “It’s super-exciting,” LeVert said. “I think we all saw it early in the year. We saw the potential we had, and it’s great to see them take it to another level. I can’t wait to be part of that.”
Atkinson stressed how much he likes the Nets’ current roster and is looking forward to getting healthy players back for the next three games. “Hopefully, if we finish in a positive way, it’s going to give us great momentum coming out of the All-Star break,” he said. “So it’s very important.”