So… who saw this coming?
Since the summer began, the common consensus was that Kemba Walker was re-signing with the Charlotte Hornets. They have the most money to offer, he’s pledged his loyalty to Charlotte on multiple occasions and he’s right square in the middle of his prime.
Now it appears that Boston, in the wake of losing both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, is in the driver’s seat in the Kemba sweepstakes.
This would qualify as a twist, but is it really?
Keeping Walker would seem like the obvious move for Charlotte, but giving him the money he wants – upwards of over $150 million – would lead to paying tens of millions in luxury tax. That’s hard enough for a team that plays in a small market, but what makes it harder for the Hornets is that even with someone as good as Walker, they are already a capped out team with a pretty limited ceiling.
Remember how so many NBA followers gave Dan Gilbert endless flak for the number of luxury tax bills he had to pay for the Cavaliers from 2014-2018? At least then, he had the excuse of paying top dollar and then some for a contender. If the Hornets gave Walker a contract close to the Supermax, they’d be doing the same, only for a team whose ceiling is much, much lower.
Even for someone like Kemba, that doesn’t sound like it would be worth it. Charlotte could try to move some things around to help its financial trouble or improve the team’s makeup, but the roster is filled with overpaid role players and young players who have a long way to go. Letting Kemba walk would be tough – in hindsight, trading him probably would have been the better option – but Charlotte needs to get itself away from the treadmill team label.
Nothing is set in stone just yet, but if this is how things are looking, then there are some implications from this move if it is to take place when free agency arrives.
Kyrie was the problem, not the kids
In a season’s span, this most recent Boston Celtics team went from being a squad that fans couldn’t wait to watch, to a squad fans couldn’t stand to watch. The turmoil in the locker room was believed to be one of the primary reasons why things didn’t work out in Boston. Now that it’s over, we’re starting to get a few leaks as to what went on behind closed doors.
One of the prevailing theories for Boston coming up way short was Kyrie’s contempt towards his teammates, coaches and anyone really in the organization, which is a whole other story by itself. By bringing Kemba in and letting Kyrie walk, they are showing their faith that the youngsters can bounce back following a rough season. In so doing, it shows their belief that Kyrie truly was what was preventing the team from reaching its potential.
The proof is in the pudding. Kyrie deserves respect both as a player and for telling it like it is, but it’s clear that he did not uplift his teammates with his actions. We saw him yell at both his teammates and his coach. We heard him make empty promises that the Celtics’ fortunes would be different in the postseason. It’s gotten to the point that Boston seems to have fully accepted that he’s not returning and is happier for it.
It’s also very possible that the talented youngsters weren’t blameless victims in what happened. The unexpected success from 2018 with such young players could have definitely gotten to their heads that tension with Kyrie was inescapable. In fact, Boston may have to ask itself if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown did not like deferring to Kyrie Irving, is it going to be any different with Kemba Walker? Even so, that shouldn’t stop them from snatching someone as good as Kemba when they have the chance.
Experts weren’t wrong when they said that the Celtics had the talent to be something special. Making the lateral move from Kyrie to Kemba shows that the Celtics believe that they still can be and that now, they won’t have hubris stopping them from doing so.
Kemba wants Brad Stevens a.k.a. the point guard whisperer
At 29 years old, Walker is now at the height of his abilities as a player. At that stage, players want a coach who can bring the absolute best out of them. As odd as it sounds now in light of everything that’s recently happened with Kyrie, Brad Stevens is an expert at bringing the best out of his point guards.
Let’s get a rundown of Brad Stevens’ track record with point guards since he took over in 2013.
Jordan Crawford – He was seen as just roster fodder, but played well enough to earn a Player of the Week award as the team’s starting point guard and fetched the Celtics a first-round pick a short while afterward.
Evan Turner – He had one foot out of the NBA, but found his niche as a secondary playmaker/scorer in Boston. His role on the team was so perfect for him that he was paid handsomely by Portland to play the same role.
Isaiah Thomas – He was slated as a scoring spark off the bench and played well enough to not only get a starting job, but also elevated his play into becoming an MVP candidate and a core piece in a trade for Kyrie Irving.
Terry Rozier – He was viewed as a reach when the Celtics took him 16th overall, and he didn’t have the most productive tenure in his four years in Boston. But when the Celtics slated him into the starting point guard spot, he played a pivotal role in getting them to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Kyrie Irving – He already came in with the reputation of a superstar. As good as Irving has already proven himself to be, Stevens got the best out of him too. Irving is coming off of his two most efficient seasons as a pro shooting-wise, played the best defense of his career and even set a career-high in assists last season.
Brad has been a guru for his point guards with the only exception being Rajon Rondo. That may be attributed more to Rondo’s ACL tear/wanting out of Boston than Brad’s coaching. But besides him, the evidence speaks for itself.
Brad’s reputation with floor generals could very well be Kemba’s primary draw to the Celtics. If his magic works on Kemba, then we could see the best numbers that Walker has ever put up in his career.
Gordon Hayward will be back (or closer) to normal
The backbone for both the Celtics having such monumental expectations and disappointing such expectations last season came – through no fault of his own – from Gordon Hayward’s return.
Hayward was unsteady through the majority of his first season back from his gruesome leg injury. Every once in a while, he showed flashes of the star player he was when the team brought him in two years ago. As the season wound down, he started finding a little more consistency in his game. If it weren’t for his sudden disappearance against Milwaukee in the playoffs, fans would be more encouraged by his progress.
Not too long ago, Hayward was once a player who everyone believed was worth every penny of the max contract Boston gave him. Now, he’s seen as an albatross contract who Boston will have to swallow whole. While the public has its doubts about Hayward, the Celtics bringing in Kemba demonstrates that they don’t.
Boston would have a solid foundation talent with Kemba and “the Jays” at the forefront. If he resembles the player he once was, Hayward at full throttle would take their ceiling to a whole new level. Many forget the player that Gordon was before his leg snapped, but he was one of the league’s better all-around players. Having that at Boston’s arsenal opens up a wide range of possibilities.
That would only be hypothetical, but by potentially adding Walker, Boston has shown that it still believes Hayward can be that guy. This season, Hayward will be two years removed from his awful injury, won’t have nearly as many guys around him who want the ball in their hands and still has Brad Stevens coaching him.
A lot can change between now and Sunday. For all we know, these reports of Kemba deserting Charlotte for Boston are all just a negotiating tactic by Walker’s camp for the Hornets to pony up. Even if this is legitimate, Boston still has more questions to answer. More specifically, what they’re going to do with their frontcourt now that Horford and Aron Baynes are gone. Knowing Danny Ainge, those questions will be answered in due time.
For now, so much has gone wrong for the Celtics in the last few months that it’s nice to see that they’re not taking it all lying down.
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