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Zach Lowe on Caris LeVert: STILL a ‘cornerstone’

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Lowe’s story on Caris LeVert and the Nets was scheduled to run next week on ESPN.com, but he pivoted Monday night with news of the Nets wingman’s injury ... and the assumption that LeVert was done for the season.

As it turned out, the story (posted 18 minutes before the Nets medical update) is fully relevant. LeVert lives and so does the Nets hopes, short and long term.

Ironically or not, the profile talks about how the 24-year-old is someone not about to sulk or cry over a setback ... and without artifice.

“It is all genuine with Caris,” Kenny Atkinson tells Lowe. “He is real.”

What comes through in the profile is not just how LeVert’s hard work has paid off and how it paid off suddenly, almost inexplicably, in training camp. There’s a lot in there about how LeVert is the product of a very intense process that started with an in-depth interview at the Draft Combine in 2016 and includes sessions in a sensory-deprivation float tank and a unique statistic: how often LeVert went flying out of bounds after layups.

It’s all part of a process, Sean Marks tells Lowe, that LeVert has bought into ... big time. The Nets GM recounts how the Nets interviewed him in Chicago in May 2016 during the Draft Combine. LeVert was still on crutches. Lowe writes...

The Nets were interested in how LeVert might respond to their intensive sports science program -- minutes restrictions, close monitoring of every aspect of his health.

”He didn’t shy away from any of it,” Marks said. “He owns everything. ‘I’ve missed games. I understand the risk you’d be taking.’ We came away saying we loved his makeup -- the humility and the honesty. There was no question he was going to max out his talent, and to me, that is always the defining question.”

The risk of course was huge. Marks needed to trade Thaddeus Young, his second best player, for the 20th pick in the draft (and a yet-to-be-used second rounder, we should note), then use it on someone other teams’ medical staff had advised be taken off their clients’ draft boards.

Lowe also reveals why Marks decided he had to get a high pick or lose LeVert. He had inside information from his time in San Antonio. “The Spurs had been eyeing LeVert for months, wondering whether he might slip to them,” Lowe writes. San Antonio had the 29th pick (and took Dejounte Murray).

From there, it was a year of rehab and then a second year of being thrown into the backcourt with Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo down. The Nets liked what they saw but wanted more from him.

LeVert bulked up his lower body to help him absorb contact. During his first two seasons, the Nets tracked how often LeVert went flying out of bounds after layups.

”He was on the floor all the time, to the point you were concerned about his health,” Atkinson said.

Coaches nicknamed LeVert “Bambi” for the way his skinny legs splayed out from under him when defenders bumped him. “They finally just stopped calling me that,” LeVert told ESPN.com after a Brooklyn practice earlier this month.

Then, “it” happened. Training camp started. And he showed that he could be something more than a piece of the rebuild.

“It hadn’t revealed itself before camp,” Atkinson said. “And then camp started, and it was eye-popping.” Veterans, including Jared Dudley, whispered to Atkinson that LeVert might be their best player.

Of course, through Monday night, the proof was left on the court: game winners, leadership, herky-jerky drives to the basket where he remembered Spencer Dinwiddie’s advice “Be quick to the paint, but slow when you get there.”

Lowe writes extensively about how LeVert uses all of his ball-handling talents and new found strength to make the most of those drives, finishing at the rim authority.

But again, he puts the 24-year-old in the mix of the Nets performance and development teams, about how he and they embraced the idea of staying in Brooklyn for the summer, changing his diet and yes, immersing himself in that sensory-deprivation tank.

He gave up beef and pork. “Burgers was hard,” LeVert said. “I love burgers.” He started practicing meditation. For an hour a week, LeVert slips into a sensory-deprivation float tank, closes the lid, and floats atop mineral-infused water in darkness. “You can have music, but I prefer silence,” he said. He visualizes in-game scenarios. “Sometimes, I even fall asleep,” he said.

It was a break from his off-season tradition of working out with Kevin Durant.

When he left Brooklyn in past summers, it has mostly been to train with Kevin Durant in Southern California. (Durant loves him.)

Even though the two were separated by a continent, KD was still offering CLV ideas, Lowe writes, like “Durant suggested he get more arc under his jumper.”

There’s a LOT more in the Lowe profile worth reading, but the bottom line for him, even after Monday night’s setback, is he wants to max it out as a player.

LeVert gives them something real to build around. Without him for at least part of the season, Brooklyn might accidentally tank out of the playoff race -- and into position to find another such player.

”He wants to be great,” Marks said, “and he’ll put in all the work it takes to get there.”

And however long his rehab takes, it’s just his latest challenge. Nothing more or less.