Emotions will be high Wednesday night.
Brooklyn will face their former rising star and cornerstone piece, Caris LeVert, for the first time since dealing him in the blockbuster James Harden trade in January. After a routine physical came the heartbreaking news. The 26-year-old was diagnosed with a cancerous mass on his left kidney which led, in turn, to surgery on January 25.
Now healthy and with two strong performances in the yellow and blue threads, he’ll look to beat his former team — and teammates — in Indiana.
Kyrie Irving expressed his own excitement to see a former teammate who he calls a “friend and a brother.” The Nets superstar wishes LeVert nothing but the best and is happy to see him back on the hardwood.
“(I’m) just honored and humbled to call him a friend and call him a brother,” Irving said after Monday’s win. “Wish nothing but maximum health and success. Love him. My family loves him so, going back and seeing him is always an honor. It’s even better going up and competing against him because I know he is going to give us his best.
“That’s what we want but what he’s been through, just nothing but prayers from me and my family, from the Nets and everyone around the world. We wanted to see him get through with what he was dealing with and I’m happy to see him back out there. We’re looking forward to going against Indiana and playing a good team too.”
After Brooklyn got its revenge against Detroit Saturday, Irving moved on to his next priority.
“I went home straight after the game the other night just to turn on and watch his debut,” Irving said. “It’s just so close. It’s just family so, I just want him to do well.”
This will not be the first time the Nets crossed paths with their former wing. During his rehab from his surgery, LeVert traveled with Indiana when the Nets hosted the Pacers on February 10 – a game Brooklyn barely escaped with a win.
LeVert, who was supporting his new teammates from the Pacers bench, received a tribute video and after the final buzzer sounded, he was swarmed with love from his former teammates.
Before being sent to Indiana as part of the four-team Harden trade, LeVert was not only a Nets fan favorite but had begun to blossom into a rising star and an important player in the Nets rebuilding process.
Selected 20th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft (ironically by the Pacers), LeVert logged a total of 225 games as a Net, and despite traversing the hills and valleys of injuries, the wing was viewed as the third star. A breakout performance in the “bubble” helped solidify that notion particularly with so many of their key players missing.
Brooklyn certainly wouldn’t be where they are today without LeVert and he helped mold culture, progressive winning, and making the Nets into an attractive destination – luring Kevin Durant, Irving, and others forming an NBA powerhouse.
“To look at what Caris and Jarrett both of those guys have brought to our franchise over the last four or five years has been nothing short of incredible,” Sean Marks told reporters during Harden’s introductory press conference. “Amazing amazing young men and the respective teams they are now on are extremely fortunate to have them because I am very proud and I speak for the entire organization. They will be sorely missed. We care for them and their families dearly.
LeVert, who is averaging 15.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in two games as a Pacer, will not only have a new fanbase rooting for him as he begins the next chapter of his career.
“We’re really proud that Caris is returning to play here. He’s incredibly well-loved in this organization, a world-class human being and a terrific basketball player,” Steve Nash said prior to Monday’s win over the Knicks. “There’s no doubt everyone here is rooting for him.”
For LeVert, he’s happy about his return … and his good fortune.
“A month and a half ago, two months ago, I don’t think I even knew if I was going to be out here, especially this soon, just with everything that happened. It’s definitely a level of gratefulness and (I’m) just happy to be on the court.”