Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie says it’s ‘realistic’ he can come back this season from partially torn ACL

Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie doesn’t care for official timelines. He partially tore the ACL in his right knee on Dec. 27, had surgery on Jan. 4 and believes he can return to the court before the end of this season. 

In a Q&A at Collision, a tech conference, Dinwiddie said Thursday that his recovery is “going great,” per The Athletic’s Diamond Leung. “The ramp-up to be able to play in a playoff atmosphere is realistic.” Conditioning is his main hurdle, he said, and he has been doing on-court work in Los Angeles for the past couple of weeks, as evidenced by his Instagram post later that day: a video of him shooting 3s with his trainer, Olin Simplis. 

(If you are wondering why this news came out of a tech conference, well, Dinwiddie’s Twitter bio used to read, “Just a tech guy with a jumper.” According to Collision’s website, he attended—virtually—to talk about his “crypto journey” with the CEO of the company behind NBA Top Shot earlier this week.)

Ordinarily, when a player is not even four months removed from ACL surgery and the playoffs are less than a month away, no one would ask him about the possibility of coming back. Dinwiddie, however, has repeatedly made it clear that he’s not ruling anything out. 

In January, the Nets received a disabled player exception, which is only granted when a panel of physicians determines the player is likely to miss the entire season. The day this was reported, Dinwiddie Instagrammed a photo of himself with a quizzical look on his face, asking followers to caption it. In his next post, a video of himself doing rehab exercises, he wrote that his caption would have been simply “DPE” and the raised-eyebrow emoji. 

Dinwiddie has continually documented his progress since, suggesting in February that he was 10 weeks ahead of schedule. In late March, he tweeted that he believes he can come back healthy. Today, he posted another video of himself shooting with Simplis. It was back on Day 1, though, shortly after the diagnosis, that Dinwiddie explained where this approach is coming from. On Instagram, he wrote about his first severe knee injury, suffered on Jan. 12, 2014, when he was a junior in college. He fully tore his left ACL and MCL and partially tore his medial meniscus, a non-contact injury that was supposed to keep him off the court for 12 months. 

Before the injury, Dinwiddie was supposed to be a first-round pick. Afterward, his stock predictably plummeted. He declared for the draft anyway, and his mindset was to “make myself as bulletproof as possible so that it never happens again,” he told me three years ago. He went vegan, became intimately familiar with a hyperbaric chamber and worked maniacally to be able to dunk after just four months and be cleared by the seven-month mark. The injury changed his life, and on Instagram he wrote that it “built the focus and fortitude to go from a second round pick to a g league cast off to the 20ppg leader of a playoff team, earning the respect of my peers along the way.”

That this latest ACL tear wasn’t worse, Dinwiddie believes, is a testament to his years of obsessive, meticulous work. This was a non-contact injury, and he wrote that there was no other structural damage, only minimal swelling and his cartilage was intact. He did not make any proclamations about being able to play before next season, but he wrote that he’s “made a living off beating the odds” and “crazier things have happened.” On April 4, he tweeted that this rehab process has been “WAYYYYY easier,” as it is only a partial tear and “the NBA level care and attention to detail is different.”

If Dinwiddie can play again this season, he’ll be rejoining a Brooklyn team that looks almost nothing like it did when he got hurt. It was the third game of the season, and the Nets brought Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince off the bench. Bruce Brown got a DNP-CD and Nicolas Claxton was inactive because of a knee injury. The previous night, Blake Griffin had made eight 3s in 44 minutes in a double-overtime loss as a member of the Detroit Pistons, and James Harden had scored 44 points in his season debut for the Houston Rockets

Before the Harden trade, there were endless questions about how Dinwiddie would fit in next to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. “With Kyrie and KD, if you’re telling me I get to come out here and pass to two phenomenal scorers and get 10 assists a game and maybe be in second gear a lot of times with my scoring, I’m fine,” he told me last year. With Harden added to the mix, though, Brooklyn has more ballhandling and playmaking than any team could ever need. Dinwiddie’s name surfaced in trade rumors leading up to the deadline, and if the Nets are ever fully healthy, his comments about being the Nets’ Draymond Green would become extremely relevant when it comes to his offensive role and usage rate. 

As of now, though, the fully healthy Nets exist strictly as a theoretical proposition. Harden recently suffered a setback while rehabilitating his hamstring injury, and has played only seven games next to Irving and Durant, the latter of whom is dealing with a thigh contusion. Brooklyn has spent the whole season shifting shapes, juggling lineups and trying to build an identity that holds up regardless of who is available. Every time there has been a chorus of analysts rambling on about what the Nets’ playoff rotation might look like, their coaching staff has been focusing on getting through whatever game is in front of them. This was true even before LaMarcus Aldridge unexpectedly retired due to a heart condition and Claxton and Reggie Perry were sidelined because of health and safety protocols. If and when Steve Nash finds out Dinwiddie is close to being ready to go, the coach should start thinking about how to integrate him. But not a moment sooner.

When asked about the possibility of Dinwiddie making a comeback in mid-March, Nash said he didn’t want to “dampen any dreams or goals that he has.” Nash stressed, however, that he is primarily concerned with Dinwiddie’s long-term health and wouldn’t want him to come back before it is safe. Before echoing that sentiment last week. general manager prefaced his cautious comments with a caveat. 

“I would never bet against Spencer Dinwiddie,” Marks said. 

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