There hasn’t been a lot of good news surrounding the Boston Celtics over the last week, as the team has had its last three games postponed due to the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. But the impending return of point guard Kemba Walker remains a bright spot, and we received further positive updates on Thursday afternoon.
Walker was cleared to practice with the team last Friday, but that was quickly derailed amid the Celtics’ COVID-19-related hiatus. Unfortunately for Boston, the lack of practice has pushed off Walker’s potential return to the lineup. For the past six days, Celtics players have only been able to use the Auerbach Center on an individual basis for one-on-one work with coaches. Despite the team’s layoff, Brad Stevens said Walker was able to continue his rehab and strengthening work — something that has gone very well for the All-Star guard.
“He’s been able to continue to do his rehab in one-on-one settings,” Stevens said following Thursday’s practice. “And his strengthening has gone fantastic. He’s put in a ton of work.”
Walker did participate in Thursday’s workout, but the Celtics did not go live (which will be an important step for Walker before re-entering the lineup). Stevens was encouraged by what he saw from the 30-year-old, adding that the determination of a return date comes down to the training staff and Walker’s readiness. They’ve gone through an exhaustive yet effective plan, and they’ll continue that method until he’s ready.
“(Walker) went full-go today for an hour with us. We did not go live,” Stevens said. “But we did a lot of up-and-down, a lot of, just trying to get our legs back in some ways with guys that haven’t done anything for a week, and he looked good. What that means as far as next steps in playing and when to play and all that stuff — that’s a decision for Kemba and our training staff. I think they put together a hell of a plan, to be honest. I felt this way in the bubble, but the bubble was constrained more by time with regard to how quickly the playoffs were at hand. But this has been a planned out, day-by-day, well-executed deal by our training staff and by Kemba. When he comes back, it’ll be because he’s ready and because he feels great and is ready to be Kemba.”
Boston has been through the rehab process with Walker before, but, as Stevens noted, the process in the bubble was a bit rushed with the postseason approaching. According to Walker, this rehab has left him feeling better than he did in Orlando, something that should make Celtics fans breathe a sigh of relief. That being said, he has made it clear that he won’t return to the lineup until he feels 100 percent prepared to do so — both mentally and physically.
“I’m definitely going to make the best decision for myself,” Walker said Thursday. “But honestly, I’m feeling pretty good right now. I know I did say I was feeling really good the last time before the bubble, which I was, but the timing in between just wasn’t really beneficial for me. But now, I am feeling really good. The way I’m feeling right now is different from the way I felt before I went into the bubble. I’ve just been able to take my time.
“I really just attacked my rehab from day one,” he added. “I wanted to get healthy. I want to stay healthy and try my best not to have any setbacks. That’s the plan. Whenever I’m feeling good and whenever I’m mentally ready to get out there, comfortable, I will.”
Walker’s expected return to practice arrived simultaneously with Boston’s COVID-19-related problems, but he didn’t sound frustrated at all by the schedule disruption. It’s evident that he is well aware of what this season will entail in terms of external issues, and it seems that realistic expectation has curbed any annoyance for Walker.
“You just never know. You just have to adjust, adapt,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing. … I just have to adjust. Adjust my workouts and just figure out ways for me to be on the court going as hard as I can, trying to simulate the game.”
As for Walker’s observations from the sidelines, he sounded very impressed with his teammates, noting both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s impressive starts.
“I feel good about the team. I’m loving the way we’re playing, especially our two superstars,” Walker said. “Those guys have been absolutely killing it. You know, (Marcus) Smart running the show as best as he can. He’s been playing really well. I’ve been loving his poise and his overall attitude and approach to the game. And our young guys — Payton (Pritchard), Tremont (Waters), Carsen (Edwards), Grant (Williams) — a lot of the time when their names are called, they’ve just been playing really well and playing with a lot of energy. I’m just hoping to come back and just add on to that. Help with some leadership and just come back and bring that energy. Bring that juice — that little extra spark. It’ll be exciting.”
The Celtics will need as much depth as possible as they continue to move through this abnormal season — something they certainly don’t have at the present moment. Walker’s addition to the lineup will help with that, making any injuries or absences a little easier to deal with. Simply getting an All-Star point guard back from the shelf isn’t a bad thing on its own, either. If Boston can get Romeo Langford back in the next month or so to help with its wing depth, Stevens and Co. should be in a good shape looking toward the second half of the season.
Boston is expected to have north of eight players available Friday night against the Orlando Magic, meaning the team should return to game-action for the first time in seven days.