The news the Nets received on Tuesday was about as good as they could have realistically hoped for. The right leg injury Caris LeVert suffered in Monday night's 120-113 loss to the Timberwolves looked in real time to be on the level of those of Paul George, Isaiah Canaan and Gordon Hayward. Fortunately, an MRI showed that LeVert not only avoided a fracture, but hasn't even lost the rest of this season.
This was obviously great news both for the Nets and for LeVert, who had been in the midst of a breakout season that saw him beginning to blossom into the franchise cornerstone many in the organization had seen him as capable of becoming. With free agency carrying no guarantee of landing a star, the rebuild the Nets have been undertaking for the past half-decade hinges in large part on internal development. Until Monday, LeVert was a shining example of that plan.
By necessity, the Nets have not followed a normal rebuilding blueprint. Thanks to 2013's disastrous Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade, they have been without their own first-round picks for the past four seasons, which prevented them from reloading with blue chip prospects even as they were perennially among the NBA's worst teams.
General manager Sean Marks, hired in 2016 to replace Billy King, has been forced to find talent through unconventional means -- second-round picks, taking on other teams' bad contracts and taking fliers on players whose injury situations mitigated their talent.
His two biggest successes thus far have been LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie, both of whom fall into the latter category. LeVert, the No. 20 pick in the 2016 draft, likely would have been a lottery-level talent before he had his college career at Michigan derailed by repeated foot injuries. He was the perfect test case for the program Marks and newly hired head coach Kenny Atkinson were installing -- one that made up for its lack of star talent by placing emphasis on hard work and player development.
In his third season, LeVert's buy-in into that system was paying off in a big way. He was blossoming into a versatile wing capable of handling the ball, making plays and scoring in a variety of different ways. The explosive athleticism that made him such an attractive prospect despite the injury risk was coalescing into tangible on-court impact.
LeVert's numbers this season -- 18.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 47.5 percent from the field -- are the best of his career, and until Monday's injury, he could be counted on a short list of players with a strong chance at earning the league's Most Improved Player award.
That's out the window now, as LeVert's dislocated foot will keep him out for an undetermined amount of time. But the news that he won't require surgery and is expected to resume basketball activities before the end of the year is a silver lining of what looked to be a tragic situation.
The Nets are not going to make the playoffs this season -- something that probably would have been true even if LeVert hadn't gotten hurt -- but they're expected to be players in free agency this summer. With the New York market and tons of cap space to sell, they should at least be able to secure meetings with some of the deep group of stars on the market. That group includes Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker, and the competition for their services will be stiff. But if LeVert is healthy by the end of the season and resumes the level of play he had shown in his first 14 games, it can only help Brooklyn's case as a team their big-name targets should consider.
But there's a long way to go before those free-agent conversations will take place. In that time, LeVert has to get healthy and the Nets have to regroup and move forward without him for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, that time without him looks to be shorter than anybody had any right to hope as he was carted off the court on Monday night. The worst fears of the Nets, and of LeVert, appear to be a false alarm. And for that, everyone can be thankful.