INDIANAPOLIS — Caris LeVert’s debut with the Indiana Pacers has been put on hold indefinitely after an MRI revealed a small mass on his left kidney.
President of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard made the announcement Saturday, three days after LeVert became part of a blockbuster, four-team deal that sent perennial All-Star James Harden to the Nets and two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo to the Houston Rockets.
Pritchard did not provide details of the diagnosis, including whether it was cancerous, and declined to establish a timeline for LeVert’s return.
"In the medical process we’ve done, we were able to find something that could help this kid and give him a better and clean prognosis for the rest of his life," Pritchard said on a Zoom call Saturday. "It’s an incredible story, and it’s something we don’t take lightly."
It also didn’t scuttle the big trade, though Houston and Cleveland, the fourth team involved, agreed to throw in future, unspecified second-round picks to keep the deal intact.
Pritchard acknowledged the Pacers thought highly of LeVert when they selected him with the No. 16 overall draft pick in 2016. But they were making that choice for the Nets, who acquired the selection in an earlier trade for Thaddeus Young. In fact, Pritchard said, he continued to try to acquire LeVert over the next several years.
LeVert is expected to undergo additional tests and the Pacers said in a statement they would provide updates when available.
"On behalf of my family and myself, we want to thank the Indiana Pacers for their support and guidance," LeVert said in a statement. "We are grateful for their extreme thoroughness during the physical process and I am looking forward to joining the team and being part of this great organization as soon as possible."
LeVert was expected to replace Oladipo in the starting lineup and has enough versatility he could help fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren, who is out indefinitely after recently undergoing surgery for a stress fracture in his left foot. Pritchard said Warren is progressing well and could return before too long. Guard Jeremy Lamb, who has been rehabbing from a a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee since February, also appears to be nearing a return. And Pritchard hasn’t ruled out the possibility of LeVert playing this season, either.
"I’m a realist but I’m an optimist, so I’m saying yes," Pritchard said.
Indiana parted ways with Oladipo after the former Indiana University star repeatedly said he was committed to winning a championship in Indiana this season but refused to commit to staying in Indiana when he can become a free agent this summer. Oladipo was seeking a max contract. The Indianapolis Star also reported Oladipo spoke with players on other teams about becoming their teammates while playing in the Orlando bubble.
To Pacers fans, it sounded like an eerie replay of the final days of Paul George’s days in Indy. In June 2017, word leaked about George’s intention not to re-sign with the Pacers when he hit free agency, lowering his trade value. Less than a month later, Pritchard sent George to Oklahoma City and got two future All-Stars — Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis — in return. But Pritchard never soured on Oladipo.
"I want to make sure when Victor comes back that we totally honor and respect what he has done for us," Pritchard said. "I will always remember some of the big plays he made for us in the playoffs to almost beat LeBron in that seven-game series and then working his tail off to get back [from a ruptured quad tendon]."
Pritchard expects LeVert to make a huge impact once he’s healthy.
"I have no doubt that a backcourt of Caris and Malcolm [Brogdon] can be a dynamic backcourt," Pritchard said. "The thing we notice about Caris is that he loves the game and those players tend to get better. So once we get this behind us, we feel like we’ll have a player who can make plays for himself and make plays for others."