(The Athletic) – Before Kemba Walker underwent the most seismic change of his life in signing with the Boston Celtics, he needed time to process his feelings. He spent eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, lifted the franchise to two playoff appearances, made three All-Star teams and the third All-NBA team in 2018-19. He had made it known where his priority was, and hoped the Hornets would match it.
Walker qualified for the $221 million super-maximum contract over five seasons by earning a spot on the All-NBA third team after another All-Star season, but was open to signing a deal less than that amount. He simply wanted the Hornets to present him with a proposal that he could justify, even if it was slightly less than the normal max of $190 million.
None of it came.
“Tough days, fucking tough days, I can’t even lie,” Walker told The Athletic. “Excuse my language. It was difficult. I couldn’t see myself just being on another team. It was just hard. That’s all I’ve known was Charlotte. Definitely some tough times. I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to get the offer that I wanted, and maybe not close to it, because of cap space.
“I had to get my head wrapped around the feeling and picking another team.”
Then the thought of Boston gained traction in his mind: The franchise, the roster, the city. The close proximity to his alma mater, the University of Connecticut.
“I’ll get to have a lot of UConn fans around,” Walker said. “And even better, I get a chance to get back more to school, possibly, to watch some games.”
The Hornets’ best offer to Walker was just under $160 million over five years, league sources told The Athletic, and in the meantime, the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics emerged as a significant appeal to the 29-year-old. For their part, the Hornets moved onto another young free-agent point guard, the Celtics’ Terry Rozier, who signed a fully guaranteed three-year, $58 million contract.
If you have the time I highly suggest you read Shams’ full piece on Kemba’s process of choosing the Celtics in free agency, but I wanted to focus on a few specific parts, most notably that line in bold. All this time had passed and we never really knew what Michael Jordan offered Kemba. We knew it obviously wasn’t the supermax that he was eligible for but there was certainly speculation that Kemba would have stayed had CHA offered that 5th year. Working under the impression that it was maybe a 4 year offer, I think many of us figured Kemba felt disrespected and that played a role in him leaving. But now we know he did in fact get that 5th year and left anyway.
Not knowing how each year was structured, 5/160 comes out to 32M a year on average so we’re probably looking at around 30ish if the reports are it was a little less. Maybe it’s lower some years and higher towards the back of the deal sort of like it is with the Celtics, but it’s no surprise when you look at how his current deal is structured that Kemba turned that shit down and cashed in seeing as how he’s 29 years old.
The story goes on to say that Kemba never really had a final conversation with MJ and that feels like a misstep given he was the franchise, but it was clear to everyone that the Hornets weren’t going to pay the luxury tax for a lottery team, and as a result he had to go elsewhere.
I just found it interesting that something many people thought would have kept Kemba in CHA, actually made no difference whatsoever. It’s clear that despite saying he would take less than the supermax to stay, the money aspect was important to him. That’s why I laughed when Wyc tried to say Kemba was drawn by the culture and the history. No man, he was drawn in because you cut the check, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But that’s just one part of the feature that was interesting. When it came to Kyrie Irving, I couldn’t love Kemba’s answer more
“I’m not trying to go in and think that I have to be better than Kyrie last year,” Walker said. “It happens. Great players go to teams all the time and it just doesn’t work. It just didn’t work for him. Kyrie is one of the best players we have in this world. It was just unfortunate, an unfortunate season.
“I’m not coming in thinking I’m going to be better. I’m coming in to do my job, play my part and do what I can to elevate these guys as much as possible. Do what I can to help the team, to contribute to winning. These guys, they’ve been winning for years. I want to be part of that. This is a big-time roster. The guys that make up the roster, there’s such great young talent — guys who are hungry, who want to win and want to get better and work hard. That’s who I want to be around.
Here’s the good news for Kemba. By simply not being Kyrie Irving, Celtics fans already love you. You don’t have to do a damn thing to win us over. As long as he’s the same Kemba he’s been for the last handful of years, he’s going to be just fine. Every point guard gets a Brad Stevens bump, it’s just what happens. Isaiah got it, Kyrie had it, and Kemba will too. That’s what people sometimes don’t understand about this signing. We have ever reason to believe we haven’t even seen the best version of Kemba yet, the same way we saw Isaiah and Kyrie both have career years under Brad Stevens and in this system.
This also stood out, “elevate these guys as much as possible”. Man is that refreshing to hear and is a little different approach in terms of mindset than what we just witnessed from a bunch of dudes on last year’s roster. I’ve said before I think Kemba has just as much pressure as Kyrie did in this uniform because we’re all sort of relying on him to not only match the production, but be the leader that this team lacked. We have no idea how he’ll respond to this new role given this is the best team he’s ever played on, but everything we’ve heard/read from him since the day he signed leads us to believe he’s going to flourish in this opportunity.
Plus look at it this way, things can’t get much worse than what we just lived through!