It felt like a long time coming when T.J. Warren finally stepped onto the floor in a Nets uniform. In fact, it marked the first time that Warren had stepped onto the floor in roughly two years.
Warren had been working his way back from consecutive stress fractures in his left foot, which had been an arduous journey for the 29-year-old forward. The standout of the bubble season spoke about the challenges he went through, not only in his physical rehab, but the mental aspects that went along with suffering injuries that cost him two years.
“Watching a lot of basketball from the side, definitely taking some time and working on my mental health as well,” Warren explained. “Just being away from the game that you been doing for 20-plus years and for it to be taken away from you is definitely an eye-opener. It made me just look myself in the mirror and just realize that one day the ball can stop bouncing. It just put things in perspective in that way.”
That made the moment when he officially checked into the game with 4:14 left in the first quarter even more special. Warren had his family in attendance for his Nets debut on Friday and he was equally excited about getting to play his first game against a team as talented as the Raptors.
It had been reported last Sunday that Warren would make his return on Friday and Thursday’s status report all but confirmed his return. Warren was at a loss for words when trying to describe what the previous 48 hours had been like knowing that he would make his return.
“I’ve been talking to my mom a lot. she’s been keeping me emotionally in sync,” Warren said. “The past 48 hours has been a crazy, crazy feeling I can’t even describe. But family and friends they’ve been in my corner through the ups and downs the past two years of me just being out of sight out of mind. Just wondering where TJ at. Just know I was really working behind the scenes to get back to this point. And it took, like I said, every emotion I went through to get back here so definitely grateful for this opportunity to be able to play again.”
Before injuries derailed things, it had been expected that Warren would be able to build off the outstanding effort he had in the NBA bubble in 2020. During that time he averaged 26.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists, which also included a game in which he put up 53 points against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Nets would take even half of what Warren had shown during that time in the bubble or from his 19.8 points per game effort he was having before the COVID pandemic paused all sports.
“What I did in the past is definitely in the past,” Warren said. “I’m definitely capable of getting back to that eventually, but right now it’s just enjoying the moment and just being on the court. Just working my way back to that. I work hard, I put a lot of time in my game and I trust myself. Just no heavy expectations at all.”
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn tried to temper expectations for Warren. He warned ahead of Friday’s game that they would ry to keep things simple with Warren now that he was back.
“I think that’s why we have to be careful in expectations for just having realistic and see where it leads us,” Vaughn said. “He’s probably not going to play to the best that we’ve seen him tonight. No, but if he can play with some excitement, some joy, that’d be good enough. We’ll keep it simple, real simple for him.”