Celtics star point guard Kemba Walker is out until at least January after receiving a stem cell injection in his left knee this offseason, and he doesn’t want to return until the knee is ready for high-level basketball.
“There’s no rush. There’s no rush on my end,” Walker told reporters Wednesday. “I’m coming back when I need to come back and when I’m feeling good to play. So that’s it. This is, I haven’t really been a guy who has been hurt over the course of my career. So this sucks, but I also love the game of basketball and I want to play at a high level in front of the fans who come to watch this game.”
Walker dealt with knee issues late last season, as he struggled in the Celtics’ loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. He averaged 19.7 points and made just 34.6 percent of his 3-pointers, both noticeably below his season averages, and admitted that he wasn’t playing as well as he wanted to.
“I want to be at my best. The last time in the playoffs, I wasn’t at my best, and that sucked,” Walker said. “I don’t want to be that way no more.”
Following the Celtics’ elimination in September, Walker saw two specialists and began a 12-week knee strengthening program at the beginning of October after the stem cell injection. The program will go until January and the Celtics won’t provide an update on his status until then.
Walker first dealt with the knee issues in February, missing three games before playing in the final four games before the All-Star break. The knee injury came back after Walker played intense minutes in the All-Star Game, forcing him to miss the next five games. He came back for the team’s last three games before the COVID-19 shutdown but was on a minutes restriction.
With the knee injuries still lingering, Walker played on a minutes restriction for the seeding games when the season resumed in July. The minutes restriction was lifted for the playoffs, but Walker still dealt with the problem in his left knee.
“It was tough, man,” Walker later said of playing through the knee injury last season. “It was tough. But you know, everybody is banged up. I try not to make any excuses, to be real with you. I played through it, I was able to get through it, I had a great time with my teammates.”
After a few attempts to come back following limited rest, Walker is willing to sit for some time in order to get his knee right.
“We just decided not to rush back and to take my time and just get healthy,” Walker said. “I’ve had a very long run. I haven’t had much of a break since I signed here. So I think it’ll be nice for me, to tell you the truth.”
Walker’s absence hurts more with the departure of Gordon Hayward, who left Boston to join Walker’s old team, the Charlotte Hornets.
Hayward signed a four-year, $120 million deal with Charlotte. Last season, it was reported the Hornets low balled on their offer to get Walker to stay, which led to him joining the Celtics. Walker was asked how he felt about the contract Hayward got.
“I couldn’t care less,” Walker said with a laugh. “I’m in the place I’m supposed to be. This is all God’s work, man. I can’t control none of that stuff. I can only control what I can.”
Walker also said he was happy for Hayward and wished him luck in Charlotte.
“And Gordon, that’s my brother. My brother, man,” Walker said. “I spoke to him during the process, and I’m happy for him. I’m happy. Whatever makes somebody happy in this league, that’s what it’s about. It’s not about anybody else.”
“I’m sure he’s happy,” Walker later said. “He’s going to have a great time in Charlotte. It’s a great place to be. It’s a great city, great fans. They love basketball. They’re going to love Gordon. He’s a great player. He’s going to bring joy to that organization.”
As Walker finished his answer, he made a minor slip up.
“So, yeah, I’m happy for Jordan,” Walker said, getting Hayward mixed up with Hornets owner Michael Jordan. “I mean, for Gordon. Jordan too.”
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