January 18, 2021
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What Kemba Walker’s Impending Return Means For The Boston Celtics

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Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics - Game Four

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 05: Kemba Walker #8 of the Boston Celtics handles the ball … [+] during the fourth quarter in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2020 NBA Playoffs at the Field House at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on September 05, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

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Kemba Walker is nearing a return to the Celtics lineup, according to Boston head coach Brad Stevens. The All-Star point guard is now cleared to practice with the team, Boston announced before its matchup with the Washington Wizards.

During his pregame media availability Friday evening, Stevens gave a positive outlook on Walker’s progress and strengthening program, noting that his next step is to go through live work with his teammates.

“I think the next progression for him is to get out there on the court with the other guys on the team,” Stevens said Friday. “He’s been out there with the coaching staff. He’s been out there, both in one-on-one workouts, but also in doing his reads, and four-on-four and five-on-five stuff. But the next step now is to play some live in practice, some live with our guys. I don’t think he’s too far. He looks great. He feels great.”

Each of Stevens’ responses came with added optimism concerning Walker and the way the Boston staff has approached the nagging left knee injury. It’s clear the Celtics have been “vigilant,” as Stevens put it, with his strengthening program, and that diligence has paid dividends.

“Credit to Kemba for saying, ‘I gotta get this thing stronger, and I gotta make sure that it is ready to go through a season and then, if we’re fortunate, a postseason,'” Stevens said. “But he and (strength coach Jace Delaney) have done a nice job putting together a plan of attack, along with Phil Coles and then hopefully he’ll be back soon.

When asked about a potential timeline, Stevens said Walker is not far away from a return, adding that he has been pain-free for over a month now.

“I don’t think he’s too far,” he said. “He looks great. He feels great. Probably the best he’s felt since he’s been here.”

Walker being pain-free for some time now is a great sign for the Celtics, especially as they stare into the uncertainty that is a COVID-stricken NBA season. Boston is feeling the brunt of this right now, as it will be without Robert Williams for at least the next week due to a reported positive test, which also sent Grant Williams and Tristan Thompson into a minimum seven-day quarantine due to contact tracing. To say the Celtics frontcourt is shorthanded would be an understatement.

Every NBA team will go through difficult stints this season with depleted depth charts. It’s inevitable. So while Walker’s presence in the lineup is important to the Celtics under normal circumstances, that impact becomes amplified during the 2020-21 season.

Just last week, Boston was forced to start Tremont Waters against the Toronto Raptors because of injuries to Marcus Smart, Jeff Teague, Javonte Green, Romeo Langford and Walker. This Celtics roster has depth problems to begin with, so any further injuries put Stevens and the Boston staff in a difficult spot. The sooner Walker returns, the sooner Boston’s below-average depth improves.

Payton Pritchard has been great, while Teague has provided Boston with some very solid minutes through the season’s first few weeks, but it isn’t breaking news that the Celtics need all the additional help they can get. Langford continues to work on strengthening his wrist following surgery, but there is no clear timeline for his return. The Indiana product had his hard cast removed one month ago.

According to The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach, the Celtics are targeting their Jan. 15 matchup with the Orlando Magic for Walker’s return.

If the timeline stays on track, that would also be the game Thompson and Williams ideally clear quarantine and return to the Celtics lineup.

“I’m sure he’ll be back here in the near future, but we’re going to still progress through the next steps of workouts and practice and those types of things,” Stevens added. “Hopefully, he’ll be back soon, but we’re not going to rush that. We’ll see how the practice goes and all that other stuff.”