Celtics point guard Kemba Walker isn’t quite sure how the stem-cell injection he received in his troublesome left knee is going to help. He doesn’t know what it’s going to do. But he does not want to be a doctor. He just wants to play basketball without pain again, and that possibility is all the information he needs.
“The way I felt the last couple of months, if I don’t feel that way, then I’m better, to tell you the truth,” Walker said Wednesday. “Because, to be honest, it wasn’t good. I wasn’t myself, didn’t feel good.
“It’s really just about being comfortable, 100 percent comfortable when I’m making my moves. Not having any thoughts and thinking that it’s going to be pain when I land, and things of that nature. So I think that will be the sign of me feeling good again.”
Walker received the injection in October and is expected to resume on-court activities this month as part of a 12-week strengthening program, but he will miss the start of the regular season. The team is expected to have more updates on his progress in early January.
Walker said he’s already feeling some benefits and believes he is gaining strength, but he understands the true tests will come when he is running and jumping and cutting at full speed.
“We just decided not to rush back, and to take my time and just get healthy,” he said. “I’ve had a very long run. 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 dealt with knee soreness during his time with the Hornets, and the stress and strain of the past 18 months exacerbated the issue. Walker played in the World Cup in September 2019, and the Celtics season started soon after.
In February, he missed six games after having the knee drained and injected to relieve swelling. While the four-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic gave Walker some time to rest, he did not have nearly as much access to training equipment or the team’s medical staff.
Then, his workload was elevated in the postseason in Orlando; he played more than 40 minutes in five games after topping that mark just once during the regular season. Now, the new season is just three weeks away.
“There’s no rush on my end,” Walker said. “I’m coming back when I need to come back, and when I’m feeling good to play. So that’s it.
“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. So I want to be at my best.
“The last time in the playoffs, I wasn’t at my best, and that sucked. I don’t want to be that way no more.”
Although Walker will be sidelined for at least the start of the season, he was encouraged by the roster additions that bolstered the backcourt. The Celtics signed veteran point guard Jeff Teague and selected Oregon point guard Payton Pritchard in the first round of the draft.
“[Teague] is a guy who’s been around,” Walker said. “He knows what it takes to win games in this league. Me and him, personally, have had a lot of battles over the years. When I first started to thrive in the league, he was really at his best.
“I’m excited to be his teammate, still learn from him as well, because he is a little bit older than me and he’s been around longer than me.”
Walker said that while he is out, he will spend extra time mentoring players including Pritchard and second-year point guard Tremont Waters.
“It’s going to be a fun year, a great opportunity for those guys to learn and grow, just get better each and every day,” he said. “I’m excited for those guys.”
There will be other changes, too. Point guard Brad Wanamaker signed with the Warriors and, of course, Gordon Hayward decided to join Walker’s former team.
Walker said Hayward spoke to him about the Hornets before making his decision, but didn’t ask for specific advice. Walker said he was happy that Hayward made the decision he felt was best.
“He’s going to have a great time in Charlotte,” Walker said. “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.”