Alone in the night with his thoughts, Caris LeVert has no answers to ease his mind.
Is basketball over for him? Is he even in danger of dying?
Indiana Pacers doctors checking an MRI during a routine physical discovered a mass on LeVert’s left kidney about two weeks ago where none should be.
The newest member of the Pacers has not worn the uniform yet. LeVert has not taken his place on the court replacing Victor Oladipo yet. He is the epitome of being in limbo, trapped in cyberspace, between teams and homes and stages of his life.
He waits. He waits for further medical diagnosis. He waits for analysis of how seriously his 6-foot-6, 205-pound, finely tuned body let him down.
Professional sports team trades are often controversial, frequently complicated, but have been very much part of the gossip landscape for more than a century.
When it is a major trade, involving several players and big-name stars, it is often termed a blockbuster. This one fit the definition because the focal point was freeing All-Star James Harden from Houston, shuttling elsewhere the popular Oladipo despite his Indiana connections, and the shuffling of other players, draft picks and cash among four teams.
Oladipo, also a two-time All-Star who played for Indiana University, had become a conundrum recently, between injury and failure to accept a new long-term deal with the Pacers while publicly proclaiming he wanted to remain a Hoosier.
When the merry-go-round stopped spinning and the assets had been exchanged, the Pacers ended up with LeVert and fans wondering if he was worth a Victor.
LeVert is prominent in the basketball world but lesser known to average fans. Now 26, he earned some notoriety at Michigan and spent four years-plus with the Brooklyn Nets, where Harden landed as Oladipo was flipped to the Rockets.
Last March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted NBA play, LeVert erupted for a 51-point game against the Boston Celtics, and he finished the season averaging 18.7 points a game. A week prior to this trade, LeVert scored 43 points against Memphis.
Statistically, it was a fair swap for Oladipo, who at 28 owns a 17.4 ppg. lifetime scoring average but hasn’t been completely healthy for two seasons.
Driven by such issues as the salary cap, team dynamics and shake-it-up mentalities to create new roster recipes, such pro trades are not uncommon. But this one is overshadowed by the unique twist of LeVert’s condition.
Final approval is not supposed to be stamped on trades until players pass physicals for their new teams. Yet LeVert seems to be a Pacer regardless, whether he can play or not. No one suggests the Nets knew LeVert was ill.
This is sensitive territory. No one waiting to hear if LeVert has kidney cancer and faces life-threatening disease is going to be vulgar and spout off about the Pacers getting the shaft. The optics are disconcerting.
LeVert has mostly kept a low profile since the physical but appeared at one Pacers practice and talked to reporters. Saying he felt 100% fine, LeVert suggested he would never have suspected anything was amiss without the checkup.
For that reason, LeVert said he was “humbled to know this trade might possibly have saved me.” A sobering thought wrapped around any fear he might feel.
That is the embodiment of irony, beyond the irony of LeVert returning to a team that drafted him in the first round in 2016 but sent him to the Nets before ever shooting a basket for the Pacers.
LeVert limped through college for the Wolverines with two left foot fractures and another leg injury, problems provoking him to write an open letter to NBA general managers saying he was healthy and could play.
Now, as the Pacers go through the upheaval of breaking in a new coach in Nate Bjorkgren, dealing with the heartburn of Oladipo’s departure, coping with injury to high-scoring T.J. Warren and forward Myles Turner and warily responding to coronavirus protocols, the stress of LeVert’s status further clouds operations.
Just as whatever the mystery mass is afflicting Caris LeVert clouds his own future, this is a story with an ending not yet written, one that may be a sad or one that be inspiring.