Boston Celtics’ Kemba Walker out until January after stem cell injection in knee

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge stated Tuesday that the upcoming NBA season will indicate how much of a long-term problem Kemba Walker’s left knee will be moving forward.

“I think this year will tell us a lot more,” Ainge said Tuesday morning of Walker, who the team informed will be out until at least January after he was given a stem cell injection and put on a 12-week strengthening program after last season ended.

“He saw some specialists over the last six or eight weeks, and they all came to the same conclusion, and I think that gave Kemba a great peace of mind as he went to different, really good doctors in our country and got the same opinions. He’s on a program, and he seems to be in a very good, happy spot.”

Ainge said the anticipation from those meetings was that surgery would not be necessary.

After the Celtics signed Walker as a free agent to a four-year max contract in the summer of 2019 to replace Kyrie Irving, he spent the latter portions of the regular season dealing with ongoing soreness in his left knee — particularly after the All-Star break — before the season was suspended March 11.

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Then, once teams resumed on-court work in late June ahead of the NBA restarting its season in late July, Walker had another setback with his knee, and was put on a minutes restriction both during the weeks leading up to the restart and throughout the seeding games inside the league’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

Walker looked very good versus the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs, but he struggled as the Celtics progressed throughout the postseason — particularly after taking a hard fall during the second round versus the Toronto Raptors when he appeared to tweak the knee.

Ainge stated it was possible Boston rushed Walker back too quickly for the bubble — a touchy subject in Boston, given the history surrounding Isaiah Thomas after his hip issues following Boston’s run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2017 — before almost immediately walking back his own statement.

But just when Walker’s season will start — and when he will be a full participant for the Celtics — remains very much up in the air. The Celtics said in their statement that Walker’s game-availability status will be updated in the first week of January, which is roughly when his 12-week strengthening program should end.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Walker is going to start playing 30-plus minutes a game. Instead, the expectation is that Walker will slowly be ramped up over time, in a similar fashion to the restart in Orlando.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Walker’s return was affected in part by the fact that the NBA season is getting started sooner than everyone had anticipated.

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