Wednesday night won’t be a typical game for several Nets.
It will be emotional — the first time they face former teammate Caris LeVert since he was traded to Indiana and shortly thereafter diagnosed with cancerous mass on his left kidney.
“I’m just honored and humbled to call him a friend, call him a brother,” Nets star Kyrie Irving said Monday. “I wish nothing but maximum health and success.
“I love him and my family loves him, so going back and seeing him is always an honor, and it’s even better to go and compete against him because I know he’s going to give us his best and that’s what we want.”
The 26-year-old LeVert underwent surgery to remove the mass and rehabbed before making his return Saturday. On Wednesday, he will look to beat his old team at his new home.
LeVert hasn’t expressed any bitterness for the Nets including him in the James Harden trade. In fact, he’s been thankful. For the trade to be completed, he needed to undergo a thorough physical exam. That showed renal cell carcinoma of the kidney.
“In a way this trade showed and revealed what was going on in my body,” LeVert said after his diagnosis in mid-January. “So I’m definitely looking at it from that side and definitely humbled to know that this trade could have saved me in the long run.”
Before the Harden deal materialized, LeVert had become an integral piece for the Nets. Selected 20th overall in the 2016 draft out of Michigan and dealt the same night to the Nets, LeVert joined Brooklyn at the start of its rebuilding. His progress was slowed by a variety of injuries, but last summer LeVert began to show his promise.
With so many key players out for various reasons during the bubble, LeVert took advantage, averaging 25 points in the Nets’ eight games. Before the Nets dealt him in the Harden deal, he scored 18.5 points and dished out 6.0 assists in 12 games.
In two games with the Pacers, LeVert has averaged 15.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in a win over the Suns and loss to the Nuggets. But just playing in a game was significant enough for him.
“A month-and-a-half ago, two months ago, I didn’t even know if I was going to be out here, especially this soon just with everything that happened,” LeVert told reporters after his return. “There’s definitely a level of gratefulness. Just happy to be on the court, man.”
The Nets wouldn’t be where they are, favorites in the Eastern Conference to reach the NBA Finals, without LeVert. His development and progress helped make them an attractive destination for stars like Irving and Kevin Durant, and without him, the Nets may not have been able to swing the trade for Harden.
“We’re really proud that Caris is returning to play here,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “He’s incredibly well-loved in this organization, a world-class human being, a terrific basketball player. There’s no doubt everyone here is rooting for him.”