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MILWAUKEE — If the Nets reach the NBA Finals, Spencer Dinwiddie is determined to play a role.
After more than six months on the sidelines due to an ACL injury, Dinwiddie is eyeing a return to play if the Nets make it to the Finals, the New York Daily News has learned. A source close to the Nets’ combo guard also says after spending most of the regular season rehabbing in Los Angeles, Dinwiddie is planning to return to the team “sooner than later.”
“He’s going to be in Brooklyn to support his team,” the source said. “He definitely is.”
Dinwiddie is back to on-court work with noted NBA trainer Olin Simplis, who has trained him throughout his career. The on-court work is a welcome sight for a player who has been bullish on his odds of returning to the floor ever since the moment he was forced off of it.
Dinwiddie partially tore the ACL in his right knee three games into the season in a Dec. 27 road matchup against the Hornets when he bumped knees with Charlotte’s Bismack Biyombo on a drive to the rim. He underwent arthroscopic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery to repair the ACL and has been rehabbing at Phenom Sports Performance in L.A. ever since.
The NBA Finals are slated to begin July 8, which would mark six months post-operation. Dinwiddie believes he can have the “fastest” recovery from an ACL tear and has been optimistic since receiving the news that his tear was only partial.
“I think it’s been 17 weeks,” Dinwiddie wrote on Instagram on May 5. “What’s the fastest anybody ever returned to Bball? Lol”
He fully tore the ACL, lateral meniscus and MCL and partially tore the medial meniscus in his left knee in a non-contact injury in college at Colorado, then recovered and worked his way into becoming an All-Star caliber player in six NBA seasons.
“So now we’re here... a contact based partial ACL tear. No other structural damage, minimal swelling and cartilage intact, proving the years of work did their job and protected me,” he wrote in an Instagram caption a day after his injury. “Pre-op prognosis: ‘This surgery should be very simple and straightforward. Virtually no non-weight bearing period post-op, either.”
Nets head coach Steve Nash has historically been bearish on the idea of a Dinwiddie return, routinely pronouncing the organization’s decision to prioritize his long-term health over short-term production. Nash said on June 6 that he’s had no conversations with Dinwiddie about returning to the team, and on May 4, the coach was not high on the backup guard’s odds of returning for the playoffs.
“I don’t think so. We haven’t seen him since the turn of the year almost,” Nash said. “It’s very difficult to, one, expose him to full NBA playoff basketball with the type of injury he has. We want to look out for his long-term health, first and foremost. And second of all, adapting back to the team environment. All those things together, it seems like it’s probably very unlikely. But who knows? Stranger things have happened.”
Nets general manager Sean Marks, however, did not rule out a Dinwiddie return when asked about the 6-5 guard’s status in mid-April.
“I would never bet against Spencer Dinwiddie,” Marks said on April 16. “That’s what we saw four years ago with him. He has a chip on his shoulder, he loves to prove people wrong, so who am I to sit up here and say he’s not going to be able to do something? I think that’s only going to backfire.
“So if there’s an opportunity for him to come back and play during this playoffs, we’ll have to evaluate at that time.”
Dinwiddie has routinely posted his rehab progress in videos on Instagram. His latest post showed improvement in the force generated by his knee in training exercises.
“Soon my power level will truly be over 9,000,” he wrote in a reference to Dragon Ball Z.
Dinwiddie was projected to play a crucial role on this championship-contending Nets team until the freak knee injury derailed his season before it ever began. He is often likened to a Swiss army knife for his versatility as a playmaker, streaky shooter and perimeter defender.
Dinwiddie finished third in Most Improved Player voting in the 2017-18 NBA season and fourth in 2018-19 Sixth Man of the Year voting. He had a breakout 2019-20 season, averaging 20.6 points and 6.8 assists per game, carrying a Nets team that had sustained injuries to both Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert, and likely would have been a Sixth Man candidate again had injuries to Irving and LeVert not moved Dinwiddie into the starting lineup for 49 of his 64 games.
The Nets roster has changed drastically since Dinwiddie was last on the floor. The Nets pulled off the blockbuster trade — swapping four players and seven years worth of draft assets — for James Harden, who has propelled Brooklyn to new heights with his playmaking and scoring abilities.
It is also unclear where Dinwiddie will find minutes behind Irving and Harden. The remaining minutes have been split between Joe Harris, Landry Shamet, Tyler Johnson and late-season addition Mike James.
Dinwiddie is also in a contract year and can enter free agency this summer should he turn down the $12.3 million player option on his deal. He only averaged 6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and three assists in limited time before his injury, navigating his fit alongside two superstar scorers to begin the season.
The Nets still have to make it to the NBA Finals for Dinwiddie’s projection to come true. They must wrap up their second-round series against Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks, then defeat the winner of the Philadelphia 76ers-Atlanta Hawks series, of which Joel Embiid’s Sixers are heavy favorites.
If the Nets do make it past both teams, they project to be heavy favorites to win an NBA championship in the first not-so healthy season of the Big 3 era. That Big 3 could receive some additional support with Dinwiddie eyeing a return in the NBA Finals.