Boston Celtics' Kemba Walker says he needs to be 'at a high level' before returning from injury

Boston Celtics star Kemba Walker says he won't return to the court before his troublesome left knee is fully ready to withstand the rigors of playing at a high level.

"There's no rush. There's no rush on my end," Walker said Wednesday. "I'm coming back when I need to come back and when I'm feeling good to play. So that's it. This is, I haven't really been a guy who has been hurt over the course of my career. So this sucks, but I also love the game of basketball and I want to play at a high level in front of the fans who come to watch this game.

"I want to be at my best. The last time in the playoffs, I wasn't at my best, and that sucked. I don't want to be that way no more."

The Celtics feel the same way, which is why Walker visited two specialists after Boston lost to the Miami Heat in six games in the Eastern Conference finals. Walker struggled throughout that series and during the latter half of Boston's seven-game series victory over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Ultimately, the course of action that was decided on was a stem cell injection into his left knee and a 12-week strengthening program that Walker began in early October and is scheduled to finish in early January.

"We just decided not to rush back and to take my time and just get healthy," Walker said. "I've had a very long run. I haven't had much of a break since I signed here. So I think it'll be nice for me, to tell you the truth."

Boston has already announced that no update on Walker's availability for the start of the season will be given until the first week of January -- more than a week after the season has begun -- and Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Tuesday that it can be expected that Walker will be on a plan to slowly build up his minutes when he does get back on the court, a plan similar to the one he was on at the start of games being played in the NBA's bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort this summer.

In truth, though, the knee issues go back to January and continued through the season being shut down in March, with Walker's play noticeably nose-diving after his heavy minutes in the "Elam Ending" All-Star Game in Chicago in mid-February. As he began ramping back up to return in late June, Walker had another setback.

He looked surprisingly spry and was dominant in Boston's sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, but Walker appeared to tweak his knee taking a charge in the middle of the Toronto series and never quite looked the same after that.

"It was tough, man," Walker said of the toll the knee issues took on him last season. "It was tough. But you know, everybody is banged up. I try not to make any excuses, to be real with you. I played through it, I was able to get through it, I had a great time with my teammates.

"Unfortunately it didn't end like we wanted it to. But we battled. I thought I battled as best as I can, to tell you the truth. But it was tough. But now, I'm looking to just get better and contribute to this team like I know I can."

The need for Walker, who is in the second season of a four-year max contract he signed with Boston last summer, to return to his All-Star form when he takes the court has increased in the wake of Gordon Hayward's decision to sign a four-year, $120 million contract with Walker's old team, the Charlotte Hornets, in free agency.

Asked whether there were any ill feelings toward the Hornets for giving Hayward a big-money deal after declining to do the same for Walker a year ago, Walker began laughing and shot down the idea.

"I couldn't care less," Walker said. "I'm in the place I'm supposed to be. This is all God's work, man. I can't control none of that stuff. I can only control what I can. And Gordon, that's my brother. My brother, man. I spoke to him during the process, and I'm happy for him. I'm happy. Whatever makes somebody happy in this league, that's what it's about. It's not about anybody else.

"I made my choice to come here to Boston because this is where I wanted to be because it makes me happy. And [Gordon], he's happy. I'm sure he's happy. He's going to have a great time in Charlotte. It's a great place to be. It's a great city, great fans. They love basketball. They're going to love Gordon. He's a great player. He's going to bring joy to that organization."

Then, as Walker finished his answer, he had a slip of the tongue.

"So, yeah, I'm happy for Jordan," he said, before realizing his mistake. "I mean, for Gordon."

Then he made sure to give Hornets owner Michael Jordan a nod as well.

"Jordan too," he said with a laugh.