NEW YORK — Caris LeVert was sleeping as part of his usual pregame nap when his phone started going off. It was 4 p.m. (or maybe 4:30, he couldn’t be sure) ahead of tipoff against the Knicks on Jan. 13 when he woke up to hundreds of texts, missed calls and notifications on his phone, so many his lock screen continued refreshing itself.
At the same time, Nets GM Sean Marks was calling. The Nets had traded LeVert and three of his teammates in a deal that landed James Harden. LeVert called the news “tough to hear,” and said he’s going to miss the fans and the family he built in Brooklyn.
LeVert, though, is not naive. He’s known he was likely to be traded if the Nets ever did pull off a deal for Harden, that he would be the center of that deal, that a deal was more likely to happen than unlikely.
LeVert also knew a trade could be looming because Marks straight-up told him. The Nets were not yet in communication with the Rockets in late August, early September, but LeVert knew it could potentially happen.
”Sean was very honest with me from the first time the rumors kind of came out. He told me don’t rule it out. … He was very honest with me, and I can’t thank him enough for that.” LeVert said. “But I didn’t know if it was gonna happen, I didn’t know if it wasn’t gonna happen, I just kind of knew that it was a possibility, and I knew there was a lot of speculation. Obviously James wasn’t happy in Houston, but I didn’t know when it was gonna happen, if it was gonna happen, I just tried to block it out and play basketball, and do my job, and I think that’s what I did up until that point.”
LeVert said he knew the trade was on the table ever since the Nets acquired Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving two summers ago. He understood that as GM, Marks’s goal is to find ways to make the team better.
“So when you have players such as Kevin and Kai who want to come and play for your city, I think that you can’t rule anything out when you’re in my position. So I knew when those guys were coming to town that anything was possible,” LeVert said. “As Sean Marks, you have to take those things serious. Kevin is one of the best players in the world, so if he wants to come and play for your organization, obviously you’re gonna make the necessary changes to do that.”
After acquiring LeVert, the Rockets subsequently traded him to the Indiana Pacers for All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The Pacers conducted a routine physical exam as part of the trade process, and they discovered a small mass on LeVert’s kidney. LeVert is now out indefinitely and declined to put a timetable on his return.
LeVert said he had no symptoms or any kidney pain while he played in games for the Nets this season and likely would have continued to play with the mass on his kidney because he was asymptomatic and the Nets would have had no reason to scan that area. Both he and the organization still await results of tests run on the mass, including tests that will determine whether the mass is cancerous.
“I was feeling 100 percent healthy,” he said. “So in a way, this trade definitely showed and revealed what was going on in my body, so I’m definitely looking at it from that side, and definitely humbled to know that this trade could have possibly saved me.”
LeVert said health comes before basketball, and that his focus is making sure he can live a quality life before returning to the court.
“I think for me, the most important thing is to get my body healthy, make sure I live a long life. Before basketball, I think that’s the most important thing,” he said. “So for me, I’m not really looking at that side of things. Obviously I want to play as soon as possible. I’m a competitor, I love to play the game, but for me I think making sure I’m good healthwise is most important right now.”
He also had a message for the Nets fans who have gone on this journey with him
“Obviously it was up and down, my four and a half years there, but I think it was nothing less than spectacular,” LeVert said. “I can’t thank them enough for welcoming myself, welcoming my family with open arms from Day 1 through the losing streaks, through the injuries, through trades, losing teammates and things like that, through coaching changes, I feel like they were always there, and I can’t thank them enough for that and I’ll always remember those fans, I’ll always remember that family there, and they’ll definitely have a special place in my heart for sure.”