On Saturday, the team’s practice facility shut down because of positive COVID-19 tests, taking with it any fleeting hopes of Walker’s return to action tomorrow night against the Orlando Magic.
“He’s been able to continue to do his rehab in 1-on-1 settings,” Stevens said after the teams’ return to the practice floor. “He went full go today for an hour with us; we did not go live but we did a lot of up and down, just trying to get our legs back in some ways with guys that haven’t done anything for a week. And he looked good.”
Walker has been on a long strengthening program after a stem cell injection in his left knee. The goal has been to bring him along slowly enough that the program provides sustainable strength in that painful knee.
“His strengthening has gone fantastic. He’s put in a ton of work,” Stevens said. “I felt this way in the bubble but the bubble was constrained more by time, with regard to how quickly the playoffs were at hand. This has been a planned out, day-by-day, well-executed deal by our training staff and by Kemba. When he comes back, it’ll be because he’s ready and because he feels great and he’s ready to be Kemba.”
This is a story Celtics fans have heard before, though. Walker has said he felt good before.
“The way I’m feeling right now is different from the way I felt before I went into the bubble. I’ve just been able to take my time, really just attack my rehab from Day 1,” Walker said. “I wanted to get healthy, I wanted to stay healthy, try my best to not have any setbacks. So that’s the plan. I don’t know. Whenever I’m feeling good, and whenever I’m mentally ready and comfortable to get out there, I will.”
Walker says he’s not frustrated by the nearly week-long layoff before returning to the floor. He has had to adjust his workouts over that time, but it hasn’t taken away from his rehab plan.
Unlike the past, there doesn’t seem to be any rush for Walker. He’s going to return when he’s fully ready. Some of that may be the maturity of a 30-year-old who realizes he can’t just power through something like this anymore. Some of it might be the feeling that the team has been doing well without him, and there’s need to cut his rehab short to be a basketball superhero.
“I’m feeling good about the team. I’m loving the way we’re playing. Especially our two superstars – those guys have really been holding the fort down and just absolutely killing it,” Walker said “I’m just hoping to come back and just add onto that. Help with some leadership. Hopefully I can just come back and bring that energy, bring that juice, bring that extra spark that we need. And it will be exciting.”