By the time Luke Kennard gets back on the court, there’s a chance it will have been nearly a year since he appeared in an NBA game.
Tendinitis in his knee knocked him out of the Pistons’ lineup after only 28 games last December, and with the league not likely to tip off the 2020-21 season until December of this year, that’s a significant time off the court and something that Kennard, heading into his fourth season, is ready to be done with.
“We're still not 100 percent sure about what is going to be happening, but whatever that is I'll be there for it,” Kennard said on Thursday. “I'm just anxious to play. I'm ready to get back out there and just play basketball, honestly. It’s been a while since I've been able to actually do that.”
Kennard is in his current predicament essentially because of bad timing. After playing more than 31 minutes against Chicago on Dec. 21, the shooting guard out of Duke was shut down as he battled the knee issues. He missed the next 36 games and by early March, he was close to returning to the lineup.
In fact, Kennard was slated to return to the lineup on March 14 in Toronto.
Of course, on March 12, the NBA shut things down as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take over the country, leaving Kennard wondering when he might get to play again.
“I was pretty much ready to go,” Kennard said. “I was already in practices and drills, going full-go in practices and stuff. I was probably gonna be on a minute restriction, but that next game was going to be the time where I was coming back to play and I was looking forward to it.”
The Pistons had just their game on March 11 in Philadelphia when word started to spread about a possible shutdown.
“We were just shocked,” Kennard said. “That's kind of what was going through our mind. We were surprised and we were just kind of in the unknown. We didn't really know what was gonna happen. So, I was kind of upset just because I was about to play. But I think they did make the right decision just from a safety and health standpoint.”
Once the Pistons returned to Detroit, they were put on a 14-day quarantine, as were the rest of the teams in the NBA. Once it was completed, however, Kennard got back to work making sure his knee was in good shape, not knowing if the season would resume at some point.
“I got back into the swing of things, working out from my apartment and getting outside doing workouts,” Kennard said. “So I really haven't missed a beat and I've been able to keep up with the workout regimen. I'm still feeling great. My knees are 100 percent and I'd be ready to go if we were playing.
“I've been ready, I'm staying ready, and yeah, I'm 100 percent healthy and ready to go, no matter what.”
Of course, there’s nothing to be ready for now after the NBA approved a return to action that includes 22 teams. The Pistons (20-46) are not one of those teams.
That, naturally, leads to a discussion about the future, one that clearly involves a rebuild in Detroit after the departure of the likes of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, who were traded. Kennard was among those rumored to be on the block at the trade deadline and there’s no guarantee who won’t still be when the next season resumes, but he’s approaching things as if he will be an important part of the Pistons’ future on a roster mixed with youth as well as veterans like Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose.
“When you look at our players that are on contract, we have a lot of young guys,” Kennard said. “I know that those young guys are working right now, and they took a lot of steps this past year to show what they can do. I'm excited to keep growing with them, and obviously, with some of our vets — we have some of the best vets in the game. They've been through so much in their careers, but I'm excited. I really am. I'm still in Detroit right now and things are starting to open up and we’ve been able to get in the gym a little bit, seeing guys around who have been working hard.
“It’s exciting to see, it's exciting that everybody is kind of on the same page of what we want to accomplish this offseason going into next year. It’s gonna be good, and I'm really looking forward to it.”
Kennard said he’s focusing now on being strong enough to play a full 82-game season and brushed off the notion he might be “injury prone.” And after averaging 15.8 points in 28 games, he’s also trying to become a much more valuable player.
“I'm just going to continue to work this offseason on shooting off the dribble, passing off the dribble, extending my range a little bit shooting-wise, and trying to become an elite scorer in the NBA,” he said. “That's really what I want to do. And then just from a leadership standpoint, I'm going into my fourth year now — it's crazy to say that, honestly — but I didn't expect my third year to end how it did. Nobody did with what was happening.
“But I’m going on my fourth year and I want to become more of a leader on the court, off the court, everything. … That's why I think being in Detroit this offseason and being around here and being around some of the staff and players even, it's gonna be good to kind of just grow as a player but also as a person and a leader on the court for some of the younger guys, as well.”