Move over, Space Mountain. Disney’s most dizzying ride right now is the daily briefings on Kemba Walker’s health.
There’s twists, there’s turns. A lot of Celtics fans walk away feeling nauseous.
Let’s rewind: Walker started to experience left knee discomfort in mid-January and missed 10 games over the course of six weeks. He was a shell of his All-Star self and his shooting percentages plummeted. Walker got injections in the knee attempting to alleviate his discomfort but was still struggling when the NBA paused in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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With four months for Walker to rest that balky knee, the general thought was the Celtics guard would be at full health for the Orlando restart. Then Walker started experiencing discomfort after initial individual workouts in Boston earlier this month and the team decided to downshift his activities with the hope of ensuring his postseason health.
Walker spent the team’s first four days in Orlando on a strengthening program that kept him from participating in most on-court work outside of post-practice shooting. Celtics coach Brad Stevens initially said the team would tread carefully with Walker with the hope that he could increase his workload at Wednesday’s practice.
At the start of his Zoom session Wednesday, Stevens was asked if Walker was able to go through practice as expected and, well, that’s when the twists and turns started.
Twist 1: "He did not (practice).”
Turn 2: "He did a harder workout on [Tuesday’s] off day."
Twist 3: “They’ve got him on a one-day off, one-day on plan."
Turn 4: "He’s reacted great, his knee feels good, and that’s a good thing.”
Twist 5: "He’s really prioritizing accumulating strength in that knee, so the day-on, day-off thing will be in effect for a while."
So Walker didn’t practice, but he got in a hard workout a day earlier. His knee feels good, but he’s pretty much got to downshift every other day in the early going.
A check on Celtics fans' panic meters would probably run the gamut. Those still scarred from KG’s knee, Bird’s back, IT’s hip, Kyrie’s knee, and Hayward’s ankle probably saw their meters soar. Those with faith that the Celtics are just being overly cautious probably only whistled a bit.
The Kemba coaster ended on the upswing, however. After running through all the ball-handlers the team could lean on whenever Walker is not available, Stevens punctuated his thought by noting, “Every indication is he’ll be available when we’re playing games.”
Stevens has consistently said that Boston’s focus over the next month is simply to have everyone healthy and the team playing with a rhythm when the playoffs start in mid-August. Heck, that’s been the team’s goal much of the past decade (with less-than-stellar results when it comes to star player injuries).
But is there reason to still worry? For that, we asked podcast buddy and Celtics center Enes Kanter if fans should be concerned about Walker’s health.
Kanter answered the question with his own query: Had we seen the video the Celtics posted after Monday’s practice in which Walker made nine straight 3-pointers?
“He looks like regular Kemba to me,” said Kanter.
He did acknowledge that the team’s priority is to be at full health when the games matter most.
One thing Kanter yearned to stress: Walker’s absence from the court hasn’t taken away from his contributions. Kanter praised Walker’s leadership and is bullish that, when the playoffs start, Walker will be out there doing all the things that All-Star Walker was doing at the start of the year.
“[Celtics fans] can relax, man. Trust me,” said Kanter. "For Kemba, it’s like riding a bike. Once he’s out there, he’s going to get everybody rolling. He’s going to make himself better, he’s going to make everybody else better around him. The Celtics fans should not be so worried about him. It’s Kemba Walker.”
Added Kanter: “He looks really good to me, man. He looks in really good shape, very lean. He didn’t lose any touch or whatever. To me, it’s Kemba. He’s an All-Star, superstar. Obviously, he knows how to play basketball. Once he gets out there, he’s going to get himself going. What’s impressed me about him so much is his leadership. Sometimes you’re sidelined, but he's still talking, still communicating, still with a smile. That's important."
Alas, the Kemba coaster will remain in service until we see that. With nearly all of the Celtics media back home in Boston and locked outside the bubble, we don’t get even a tiny glimpse of practice or a morning shoot-around to try to read Walker’s body language. We’re left to rely on the small bits of information being relayed from afar.
It’s fair to be skeptical. Walker hasn’t talked to reporters since entering the bubble and probably won’t do such until he goes through his first practice. Maybe it’ll be later in the week.
Thus, the Kemba coaster glides on in the darkness, with more twists and turns to come. Celtics fans are left to hope it ends with smiles, and not everyone reaching for their puke buckets.