Brad Stevens revealed Monday that Kemba Walker experienced “a little bit of discomfort” in his left knee after individual workouts in Boston.
That’s not the news that Celtics fans, long convinced their team is snakebitten when it comes to star players and injuries, were hoping to hear after the team’s four-month break without basketball.
Walker was held out of practice again Monday as he continued a four-day strengthening program aimed at keeping Walker upright inside the bubble. Stevens had previously noted that the team will limit Walker’s minutes during scrimmages and seeding games with hopes that will allow Walker to operate without restrictions when the playoffs begin in mid-August.
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Just 12 days ago, Walker deemed himself “ready to go,” while noting how the break was “super important” to get him comfortable on the knee again. Walker had his left knee drained and received Synvisc injections to combat swelling and soreness that caused him to miss a total of 10 games, including two stretches in February.
For any other team, this might not be reason for concern. For the team that’s dealt with Larry Bird’s back, Kevin Garnett’s knee, Shaquille O’Neal’s heel, Isaiah Thomas’ hip, Gordon Hayward’s ankle, and Kyrie Irving’s knee, this is just the latest in a long line of injuries to star players that lingered into the postseason.
Making it all the more tough to swallow is that Walker had been an NBA ironman early in his career, appearing in 94.5 percent of Charlotte’s regular-season games during his first eight years in the NBA. In Boston, he missed nearly a quarter of the team’s 64 games, and it could have been more if he hadn’t avoided a serious neck injury in a scary on-court collision in Denver.
It’s fair to be concerned about Walker’s long-term health. He’s a 30-year-old, undersized guard who relies on that knee for speed and explosion. The Walker we saw early in the new calendar year was a shell of the All-Star who shot nearly 40 percent beyond the 3-point arc for the first 46 games of his Celtics career.
If the Celtics were trying to calm the masses, a social media post with Walker hitting nine consecutive 3-pointers after Monday’s session was a much-needed glimpse.
Enes Kanter noted that Walker had slimmed down during the break in the season, which could aid the wear and tear on that bothersome knee. The question is whether Walker can play at an All-Star-caliber level again after all the downtime or will the knee require greater maintenance down the road?
We should get some answers soon. Stevens said Walker would get his workload elevated Wednesday after the team takes a day off on Tuesday. Stevens admitted he’s eager to see his team at full health, something it so rarely was during much of the season.
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The Celtics have treaded carefully, particularly with knee issues, in recent seasons. Horford, in particular, would take stretches off with the goal of strengthening a balky knee and the Celtics were able to lean on him for 35 minutes per game while appearing in all 46 of Boston’s playoff games during his three-year tenure.
If this is simply the Celtics treading extra cautiously given the unique circumstances, then it might not be as concerning as initially thought.
"He certainly, I think, feels better than he did even in March,” said Stevens. "But with just even the small discomfort, we said, 'Let's take the four days, and ramp it up appropriately.’
"The No. 1 thing is strength, and strength around the knee. Hard to do that with the four days we just had. … I think it makes a lot of sense to then ramp him up as we start up again on Wednesday. That may mean he's a little bit behind when we start scrimmage play and when we start seeding games play from his normal minutes but his health is the most important thing and it's not just for this particular period; it's for the long run and strength around the knee is important.”
But it’s undeniable that Walker’s presence is vital to Boston’s success. For as good as Jayson Tatum was in February and March, masking Walker’s on-court struggles, the Celtics need multiple star-level options to lean on during the postseason.
They absolutely need a healthy Walker when the playoffs start up.