When Caris LeVert sat down for his postgame media session after the Nets suffered their second straight loss and fell to 2-2 Monday night, he took the opportunity to give a public shoutout to close friend Spencer Dinwiddie, who is scheduled to undergo right knee surgery next week to repair a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament and most likely will be out for the season.
“Just want to say hat’s off to Spence, man,” LeVert began. “I know that’s a really tough injury. That’s one of my brothers. We’ve built a close bond over these last couple years. So, definitely with him, prayers with him. I spoke to him [Monday]. He seemed to be in good spirits. Definitely, definitely praying for him, fighting for him the rest of the season for sure.”
No doubt, the Nets also sorely missed stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who rested for the loss to the Grizzlies as an early-season precaution designed to promote a smooth comeback from their own surgeries. They are expected back in the lineup for the first of two straight games against the talented, young Hawks Wednesday and Friday nights at Barclays Center.
But LeVert’s recognition of Dinwiddie’s importance to the Nets served to underline how critical his presence was to a team expected to contend for a title. Dinwiddie led the Nets in scoring (20.6) and assists (6.8) last season, but his stats were way down in those categories to 6.7 points and 3.0 assists this year because he was prepared to sacrifice his numbers in a contract year to support Durant and Irving as the go-to guys. While Dinwiddie started at shooting guard, LeVert shifted to point guard with the second unit, which gives him an opportunity to have the ball in his hands much more.
Without Dinwiddie, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot jumped from his role as a seldom used 11th man into Dinwiddie’s starting position. Had Irving been available against the Grizzlies, LeVert likely would have remained as sixth man instead of starting. The ripple effect through the roster also created an opportunity for Chris Chiozza to come off the bench as backup point guard. When Irving returns, his time likely will be limited again.
Dinwiddie’s injury will test the Nets’ depth at guard, a position they fortified during the offseason with the additions of backup Landry Shamet and depth players Tyler Johnson and Bruce Brown. Coach Steve Nash liked what he got from TLC and Chiozza.
“TLC’s been playing well,” Nash said. “He came in [during Sunday’s loss at Charlotte] and played well down the stretch. He’s made shots. He’s very reliable defensively. And ‘Cheese’ gave us another ballhandler.
“Without Spencer and Ky, there was a heavy load on Caris handling the ball. They were trying to take him away and deny it full-court, so ‘Cheese really helped, not only to handle the ball, but he made some plays for us. Those guys both did great.”
Dinwiddie’s development with the Nets has been an integral part of their growth over the previous four seasons . Joe Harris has shared that journey with Dinwiddie, and he also commiserated about the loss.
“It’s devastating,” Harris said. “Difficult blow for this team. Spencer is obviously an All-Star caliber player, and losing him is a huge impact on both ends of the ball. For morale’s sake around the locker room, you never want to see one of your teammates go down.”
But Dinwiddie expressed some hope on social media about an improbable return from surgery to join the Nets’ playoff push late in the season.
“AT WORST I’ll be more than 100% by next season,” Dinwiddie wrote. “Next question: Will I miss the road to a @brooklynnets 2021 championship? My response: As we’ve seen before. Crazier things have happened.”