ORLANDO, Fla. — The Celtics are treating Kemba Walker’s knee issues as if it’s an injury because it is. The All-Star point guard said he appreciates the team’s cautious approach because it will prepare him for the team’s projected long playoff run.
Walker participated in a portion of practice as the Celtics continue to prepare for scrimmages next week. But there is no rush. The club wants him healthy enough to withstand the rigors of the postseason.
“I’m feeling good; it’s really just taking it one day at a time right now,” he said. “Just being smart. I’m feeling really good, just taking it slowly.”
Walker, the Celtics’ prized free-agent acquisition last summer, has experienced knee troubles since before the All-Star Game. He played heavy minutes in that game and then expressed discomfort following his return to Boston. He missed six consecutive games after the break and returned for Boston’s final three games before the season was suspended.
Despite a three-month layoff, Walker’s knee improved but not completely, prompting the Celtics to give him a reduced schedule upon the team’s arrival in Orlando.
“I can’t really explain it, but it was a pain on the side of my knee,” Walker said. “Throughout my career I haven’t missed many games and I’ve been able to play through a lot and it was bothering me, so that was the best choice for me was to sit out. So this is not normal for me, being out like this, but it’s the smart way to go about thing because I want to be my best for my teammates and this organization when the regular season comes around and most definitely in the playoffs.”
The Celtics plan to stagger Walker’s practice and scrimmage time so he is 100 percent by regular season’s end. The Celtics have eight regular-season games left but with little chance of catching Toronto for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and with home-court advantage no longer a factor with the resumption at Disney World, the emphasis is staying healthy.
“It’s definitely pretty frustrating because I’m not a guy who misses many games, especially not throughout the course of my career,” he said. “I’m not really concerned honestly because I’m trending upwards. I’m getting better, getting closer to returning. I’m fine. I’ll be back better than ever, I think.”
Celtics faithful have been denied the opportunity to see a healthy Walker play with a prime Jayson Tatum. In his final eight games before the suspension, Walker shot 34.5 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from the 3-point line with the balky knee.
“I think we can be pretty tough, for sure,” Walker said. “Since he’s been the way he’s been I haven’t really been able to help out like I’ve really wanted to, so yeah, I’m really looking forward to coming back and just making an impact with all my teammates, just being better than I was before the season [was suspended].”
Brad Stevens acknowledged that he and the other 21 coaches in the NBA bubble cannot guarantee they won’t react adversely to these dramatically different circumstances. The hope is with more familiarity and comfortability, teams will return to form and be ready for a long postseason run.
Walker said the team has had to make the best of the situation — limited to the campus, no family, social distancing.
“We’re all here; there’s not much we can change,” he said. “I think we’re doing a great job at that so far. Just really keeping each other’s company, camaraderie is getting even better. We’re spending a lot of time with each other. In situations like this, you have to count on the people you came with for the part to keep you happy, keep you sane because it can really be tough. We’ve really been just sticking together and enjoying our time as much as we can.”
Stevens said he wants his team to enjoy the experience, turn the journey into a positive and then focus on basketball.
“I don’t think it’s been unique to us,” he said. “This has been an unsettling and uncertain time. Every industry is being forced to adjust accordingly and I think that’s something, the idea of practice time changing, that’s not a big deal. As long as we get out there with a couple of balls, a couple of hoops and have some water, then we’re going to be able to practice and practice well. So as far as how the games go, it is unique.
“I’ve probably have been more focused on, I just want us to have a joyful period.”