Kemba Walker has a quiet personality, yet he erupts on the court. Somehow, his pending free agency replicates this: it’s one of the quietest, yet one with the most movement out of the major free agency decisions looming in the NBA. After all, Walker has spent all of his career in Charlotte where the NBA spotlight tends to shy away from. At 29 years old, and the best player in Hornets franchise history, Walker can re-sign with the Hornets on a super-max contract of $221 million over five years, or he can sign a max deal elsewhere for $140 million over four years.
When the season ended, the Charlotte Hornets were the front-runners to keep Walker, per source. Odds wise, it was anywhere north of 80% probability. The team holding the other 20% was the Los Angeles Lakers. Walker has said time and time again how much he loves the franchise, city, and everything about being a Hornet. He even said he’d be willing to take less than the super-max to stay in Charlotte, which is something that no franchise player anywhere has yet to do.
However, the Lakers trading for Anthony Davis put a big swing into the Kemba Walker sweepstakes. The probability of him staying in Charlotte shifted towards a 50/50 split. This would be the worst case scenario for Hornets fans, and Walker himself. He could compete for a title in La-La Land, or he could stay to his roots in Charlotte. It’s an impossible to decision for many of us to make. That said, the decision was practically made for him as the Lakers botched the finer details of the trade resulting in a loss of eight million dollars in salary cap space and ultimately, a loss of another max contract slot. A big blow for the Lakers as a whole this free agency season, but a major sigh of relief for Hornets fans as a major player is likely out of the game to steal their star.
The New York Knicks have been been thrown around through the sports media scene as a possible destination for Kemba to land, but he has eliminated them from his list, per source. Walker grew up in New York, and doesn’t care for returning home to play basketball. In addition, the front office mess is not exactly enticing. Another major player has been avoided for Hornets fans.
Two major players are out of the game and Charlotte has to be feeling good about their chances, right? Not so fast. The Dallas Mavericks, who have been interested in Walker since the All-Star break, are going to make a big push for Walker. The Mavericks are also expected to negotiate a 5-year $158 million dollar deal with Kristaps Porzingis this offseason (per Shams Charania) to pair with the Rookie of the Year, Luka Doncic.
This is where things get interesting. Per source, the Mavericks are intending to become Walker’s highest bidder this summer and are the front runner to land the point guard. This also implies that the Hornets are going to lowball him for the ultimate hometown-discount, below even the regular max, let alone the super max. This falls in line directly with what Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer tweeted today.
This is why I cared so much about the Hornets’ draft last week. They went vanilla in an offseason where they needed to impress Kemba that they could build something. I asked my source if they thought Charlotte’s draft was at all enticing to move Walker towards staying, “Nopeeee.”
It’s one thing for the Hornets to lose Walker while giving it their all, we can certainly respect that, but to lose your franchise player because you don’t want to pony up what he deserves is laughable when it’s your own front office that put your roster into salary cap hell. Should this come to fruition, I expect Hornets fans would want to burn Spectrum Center to the ground.
But wait there’s more. Marc Stein of the New York Times is also reporting the Boston Celtics are now expected to enter the race for Walker, which I can confirm. The Celtics are not expected to re-sign star point guard Kyrie Irving. Per source, the Celtics are now the front runners for Walker should they bring in center Steven Adams from Oklahoma City, and if Walker decides to leave Charlotte.
Kemba Walker’s free agency has already become a whirlwind, and we haven’t even begun. As of right now, I expect Walker to be elsewhere next season as most signs point to that. NBA free agency officially begins June 30th at 6 p.m. EST.