In a wide-ranging and fun interview with Taylor Rooks, Caris LeVert doubled down on how a Nets playoff run is realistic, noting in particular the off-season pick-up of D’Angelo Russell as well as better health for himself and Jeremy Lin.
He spoke too about his summer travels to Taiwan and Japan with Jeremy Lin and to California with Sean Kilpatrick to work out with Kevin Durant and Steve Nash.
When Rooks asked how Nets fans should feel about the coming season, the sophomore swingman didn’t hold back.
“I think they should be super excited,” he told Rooks. “We have a lot of new faces. We have a lot of guys with similar skillsets but at the same time, also very unique. We have a lot of wings but you have a guy like Allen (Crabbe) who can really shoot, you’ve got a guy like Rondae who can really defend and really finish around the basket.
“I think we have a lot of pieces that really go well together and it will be interesting to see how quickly we can mesh together and go out there and win games.”
He added that the Nets will be building off the end of last season. Part of it was he and Lin returned from injuries, but LeVert said it was more than that.
“We started to see that the way were playing was paying off. We felt we were playing the right way. We were playing together as a team but we weren’t winning...
“Then after the All-Star Break, something clicked (snaps fingers). I think all of us were healthy. We were making some more shots I guess, but we ended up — after the All-Star Break, I think we were top six in the East. (They were 11-15 post-ASG, 11-13 in March and April)
“Obviously, it was a little too late but I think that’s great momentum moving into next year for sure.”
Now after the off season acquisitions — “DeMarre, Allen, D’Angelo and Jarrett — that gives us a huge, huge leap going forward.”
He admits they team will miss Brook Lopez.
“Brook was a great player, a great teammate, and you hate losing a guy like that because he was so talented, but I think we made some good moves for sure.”
No acquisition has him more excited than that of Russell. Rooks asked what was his reaction when the team made the deal for D-Lo on June 20.
“I was super excited because I’ve seen him going back to high school, honestly ... Us both being from the Midwest ... So I saw him play a lot. He’s got such a high IQ. I think a really underrated part of his game is his passing. Coming out (of Ohio State) everyone knew he was a great passer. That’s kind of overlooked now. He’s someone who everyone would love to play with. He finds guys naturally. That’s like a sixth sense that not a lot of people have.”
He isn’t that concerned that the current roster is so wing and guard heavy.
“We have a lot of guys who are between 6’6” and 6’8” and that’s great in the league right now because you see a lot of undersized 4 men, a lot of guys like Draymond Green who can play the 4. We have a lot of guys who can do that, for sure. And I think that’s the position —if you have a great stretch 4, a great 4 who can defend multiple positions, then you’re in pretty good shape.”
The highlight of his summer may have been his first trip to Asia where he got a close-up look at LinSanity.
“Taiwan was crazy. That was my first time ever being in Asia and being with Jeremy was like a different level. As soon as we got off the plane, there were people with Brooklyn Nets jerseys, Michigan jerseys.
“I saw pictures but experiencing it firsthand was just ridiculous. Every time we got off the bus to go into the camp, it was pictures, autographs. Every time, we went to dinner, pictures, autographs. We would see people in the morning time and they would a picture. Then, we would see them that night and they would have the picture printed out for us to sign.
The trip gave him a chance to bond with Lin.
“(Jeremy) is great. He’s a real cool guy. He gave me a lot of great advice this rookie season I had. He had an injury too, so we were going through rehab together for a little while. He’s a great teammate, somebody to look up to, somebody to aspire to be like. He had a great story (LinSanity) obviously and he’s a great teammate. Anybody, any rookie would be lucky to have, for sure.”
His other trip, a week in California with another teammate, gave him a sense of how greatness doesn’t just happen.
“You see why KD or Steve Nash, when he was playing, are so good. They’re so locked into attention to detail. And they work extremely hard. We were doing three-a-days for like a week straight. Me and Sean were only there for a week, but that’s his whole summer. Looking at that you see why he’s Finals MVP, league champion. “
Bottom line, LeVert thinks it’s not just his game that’s improved but his comfort level.
“I would say shooting, but mostly, my comfort level out there on the court,” he told Rooks. “As a rookie, it’s tough coming in from a different situation. You’re trying to find yourself. You’re trying to find your role and everything. I feel going into this year, I’m going to be a lot more comfortable. And as an athlete in any sport, you know if you feel more comfortable, that’s when your natural instincts come out. And I’m looking forward to that, for sure.”
He added that he’s put on five to seven pounds this off-season, which can’t hurt.
LeVert talked as well as about his adjustment to the NBA, starting with his surprise that the Nets took him so high, considering his multiple foot injuries.
“I was surprised at No. 20, but I don’t think I was surprised first round. I remember Joe, my agent, coming over to me, ‘the Nets are taking you at 20 and I said, ‘Come on, stop playing with me’ because I didn’t know the Nets had the No. 20 pick. I didn’t know they had traded to get it. And I just didn’t think I was going to get picked 20th. But I didn’t think first round was a stretch. Obviously, I am super blessed to be where I am. I’m extremely thankful.
“At the draft, I was like, ‘I just got drafted,’ but it hadn’t hit me yet. I don’t think it has yet. I’m sure one day it’s going to hit me like, ‘Wow, I’ve made it.’”
What surprised him?
“The travel. The travel. When the season first started, I was injured so I didn’t play and I was exhausted just traveling, not playing. So, I was like, ‘What am I going to feel like when I finally start playing and traveling! It was huge. We pretty much play a game every other day. and half of those are away games so it meant traveling two or three times a week.”
He recalls as well being on the roster, but not being able to play.
“It was tough, it was tough. I started the year injured and I couldn’t really contribute. And I was a rookie, still learning. The travel was tough.”
Then, came the losing. After a win his first game on December 7, the Nets went 2-29 over the next six weeks.
“Then, when I started playing, it was a lot more fun but we weren’t winning a lot of games. Jeremy was injured at the time and so it was definitely tough,
“When I was in college and in high school, I thought they can’t really care about every single game. I mean, there are so many of them, but when I got here, you definitely care about every game. Nobody likes to lose, everybody has that competitive nature. Everybody’s competitive.”
On a personal note, LeVert admits he’s into clothes and fashion, spending a lot of time in SoHo ... and that fashion sense extends to the court...
“I usually have the same swag on the court. I usually have the wrist tape, left wrist, maybe ankle braces, but that’s not for fashion. That’s a necessity. Other than that, I dont do too much. I don’t wear a shooting sleeve or a headband...
“I hooped in the Kyrie’s last year. I probably will again. I don’t know though. I have to find shoes that are comfortable but are good for my feet. That’s kind of difficult. I need like really sturdy shoes and Kyrie’s were perfect. So I guess I will.
“I’m more of a mid- to high top guy.”
And he finally explains why he stood up Russell in that midnight workout, one that DLo mentioned at his press conference.
“Okay, here’s what happened with the midnight workout. So we went to dinner together as a team and D’Angelo asked me if I would go with him. I was like, ‘sure.’ But I got to watch ‘Power’ first. So after I watch ‘Power,’ I will come to the gym with you for sure. So he went to the gym, but I was still watching ‘Power.’ I went after ‘Power’ was over, but I guess he was gone already.”
He didn’t quite convince Rooks.
And yes, he’s related to the late singer songwriter Gerald LeVert, but when Rooks asked if he could sing, he replied, no. He does other things well, however.