There remains no bigger question about the Celtics heading into the NBA restart than the status of All-Star Kemba Walker. The point guard looked like a shell of himself over the final two months of the season before play was halted, shooting 31 percent from the field in February and March despite long layoffs to rest his sore knee.
The grind of an NBA season that dated back to the FIBA World Cup Tournament in China back in August clearly took its toll on the veteran 30-year old, who has had a history of knee issues. It remained uncertain whether the Celtics would be able to rehab Walker’s knee enough heading into the postseason to get him closer to full strength.
“I’ve had a long summer, I’ve played a lot of basketball. That’s the only reason it’s kind of flared up on me like that,” Walker said back in March. “I’ve played a lot of basketball over the years. It happens. I’ve been blessed over the course of my career to be pretty healthy, but it happens, man. We all get injured at some point. Just gotta deal with it.”
Of course, everything changed on March 11 once the coronavirus pandemic hit the NBA. An indefinite hiatus turned into essentially a full NBA offseason of rest for the entire league, allowing Walker a prolonged period of recovery, albeit without the usual NBA training amenities. Brad Stevens confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the Celtics will have a full roster available for the Orlando bubble (no one opting out) and no coronavirus positive tests so far for the team’s travel party since testing began last week, which bodes well for Boston’s postseason chances. The good news continued as Walker addressed his own health on Wednesday afternoon.
“It was super important for me,” Walker said of the break to rest his knee. “I really, really needed to get that break. It definitely helped me get back to myself and start to feel comfortable on my knee. It was a very unfortunate time, but it was in my best interests for sure. So I’m pretty comfortable with the way the schedule is and I’m just going to keep on taking care of myself. That’s really all I can do, so I’m just going to stay on top of things and take it day by day.”
Walker spent the majority of the past four months quarantining in his Charlotte home with rookie teammate Grant Williams. The duo returned to Boston in June to begin individual workouts at the Auerbach Center before full practices start to ramp up. The health of everyone in Boston, not just Walker, has been positive so far according to Stevens. Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams and Enes Kanter were among the Celtics battling injuries when the season came to a halt in March.
“A lot of guys have been in Boston a good majority of this hiatus and we were allowed to do voluntary workouts starting early June back in the facility and have seen almost everybody through,” Stevens said. “Today is the first day we will see everybody through all in one day, because it’s mandatory now. But guys look good. They look good physically and clearly worked hard to prepare as well as they can.”
Things could change in the coming weeks as team activities get ramped up and 5-on-5 play is authorized by the league. That transition will be the true test for Walker and the rest of the league when it comes to their fitness and lingering injuries.
“It feels good,” Walker said of being back. “Still trying to get in that game shape obviously, it’s tough when you’re not able to play. It’s just a different shape, you can do all the running you want, but basketball shape is just so different. But getting there, slowly but surely for sure.”
There will be plenty of opportunities for the Celtics to manage Walker over the next month-plus before the