The wait is almost over. After undergoing surgery to remove a small mass on his left kidney in late January, Caris LeVert is expected to debut for the Pacers on Saturday against the Phoenix Suns, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Shortly after arriving from Brooklyn in a four-team trade that sent Victor Oladipo to Houston, LeVert underwent surgery to treat renal cell carcinoma on his kidney that was discovered during a team physical. Over the All-Star break, the 26-year-old posted a photo of himself to Instagram in practice gear, with the caption “soon.”
On Thursday, head coach Nate Bjorkgren told reporters that the slippery playmaker had participated in contact practice.
“He’s getting closer and closer, it won’t be too much longer,” said Indiana’s bench boss, adding there’s “a chance” LeVert could play during the road trip.
On the season, the Pacers have played 25 games, posting a 10-15 record, in games without both of T.J. Warren, who has been shelved since December 25 due to foot surgery, and Oladipo/LeVert. Since the trade, the Pacers have been in sore need of extra scoring to compensate for some of the mix ups that have been occurring at the other end of the floor, as they’ve allowed the most opponent second chance points in the league, while also at times struggling to cycle between various types of defense.
With LeVert, who averaged 28.5 points and 8.3 assists while hitting 46 percent from the field in four games as a starter with the Nets, the Pacers are also gaining an additional ball-handler, hopefully, capable of countering for the uptick in unders the team has seen of late in pick-and-roll coverage that has sapped some of the lyricism from the offense.
As a playmaker, LeVert doesn’t often locate the corners, but if he can keep the offense moving in Indiana like he did in Brooklyn, with slick kick-outs to the wing and last-second wraparounds and dump-off passes through tight spaces, then perhaps Bjorkgren can better avoid overworking Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis over the second-half of the season than what was possible with only T.J. McConnell available as a spare initiator.
As of now, it’s unclear how the Pacers plan to bring LeVert back into the fold, though it should probably be assumed that they will keep him on a minutes restriction early.
Whatever the case, the man has overcome cancer to return to action and that’s great news — both for his long-term health and well-being as well as a for a team that has dropped five of six games.