The NBA's four-month hiatus was supposed to be a blessing in disguise for Kemba Walker, who was dealing with a nagging injury before the coronavirus pandemic halted the 2019-20 season.
Instead, the downtime reiterated that Walker's knee may be an issue for quite some time.
The Boston Celtics held the All-Star point guard out of practice Monday and Tuesday in Orlando after he experienced "a little bit of discomfort" in his left knee during individual workouts in Boston, per head coach Brad Stevens.
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Walker already has missed 14 games this season, so it's not a great sign that the knee is still bothering him after four months of rest. While the Celtics are optimistic about Walker being a full go for the playoffs, NBC Sports Boston's A. Sherrod Blakely is more wary of what future seasons will look like for the 30-year-old guard.
"My concern has more to do with the fact that this is year one of a four-year deal," Blakely told co-host Chris Forsberg on the latest Celtics Talk Podcast. "This is a guy who only missed for games total in the previous four years and he's already missed 14 this year. That makes me very concerned that this may be the beginning of a career of load management for Kemba Walker.
"I just remember at the start of the season, I asked him, 'You're coming up on 30, you've logged a ton of minutes: Any talk of load management?' And he kind of scoffed at me when I brought that up. And now in retrospect I'm thinking, 'Yeah, I might have been onto something there.' "
Walker indeed was an iron man for the Hornets, playing at least 73 games in all but two of his eight seasons with Charlotte and at least 80 games in four of those campaigns. A deep team like the Celtics can afford to give Walker some "load management" games, however, so missing 10 to 15 regular-season contests might be Walker's new reality in Boston.
As for the task at hand, Forsberg is confident the C's can get Walker right for the playoffs considering how they've handled previous veteran players with knee issues.
"The Celtics have downshifted guys in the past, whether that was Al Horford or Marcus Morris -- guys with knee issues that they wanted to strengthen so that they were upright in the playoffs," Forsberg said. "Al was playing 35 minutes per game in the playoffs throughout his Celtics career.
"I'm not overly concerned that they can keep Kemba ready. It's just going to be a storyline that lingers and goes on and on: When he plays only 14 minutes in one of these seeding games, it's going to be an issue."
The Celtics have eight "seeding" games to try to move up from the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference before the playoffs begin. Walker might play less in those games considering Boston has locked up a playoff spot, but once the postseason rolls around, Forsberg doesn't expect the four-time All-Star to hold back.
"The other thing we need to remember: He's going to be highly motivated," Forsberg said of Walker. "He hasn't had that chance to really show what he can do on the playoff stage, and I think if anyone's going to be able to battle through a little discomfort, it's going to be Kemba Walker."
Blakely and Forsberg also spoke with ESPN's Eric Woodyard about the Milwaukee Bucks' mindset entering the NBA bubble and how they stack up with the Celtics.