Kemba Walker enters free agency as an unrestricted free agent.
At age 29, Walker is coming off of the best season of his career after nearly willing the Charlotte Hornets to the playoffs. He averaged a career-high 25.6 points to go along with 5.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, and was named his third All-Star Game - his first as a starter.
The UConn product is eligible for a supermax extension if he returns to the Hornets, potentially earning up to $221 million over five years. With that being said, is returning to Charlotte in his best interest?
Let's take a look at possible free agency destinations for the All-Star guard.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Celtics have emerged as the "frontrunner" to sign Walker.
The Boston Celtics have emerged as the frontrunner to sign Charlotte All-Star guard Kemba Walker once free agency opens Sunday at 6 PM ET, league sources tell ESPN.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 27, 2019
This is a deal that makes too much sense, should Walker choose he'd rather contend over taking the money and staying in the city he's spent his entire career in.
The Celtics are in limbo - with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford looking to be on their way out the door, the future of Boston has become blurry. They still have a number of quality pieces - Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward is still a fantastic core of players. In fact, that core would be better than any team Walker has competed for in his eight years in the league.
Restricted free agent guard Terry Rozier's decision is in the hands of Celtics' upper management, but should they have the chance to sign Walker, you'd have to imagine they'd let Rozier walk.
Walker is coming off of a season where he had to do absolutely everything for his team to compete. His usage rate of 31.5% was the highest of his career and ranked him inside the top-10 of the league - higher than Russell Westbrook and on par with LeBron James.
He averaged 5.9 assists per game last season - the second-best of his career - and that's with a supporting cast of a revolving door of shooting guards, inconsistent 3-point shooters and pick-and-roll companions who don't threaten a defence.
Put Kemba on the floor with options like Brown, Tatum and Hayward as an outlet, and the floor will open up for him more than he's ever seen in his career. He'd be able to rely on his teammates to knock down shots and wouldn't have to score over half of his team's points to keep them in the game.
Walker would be loved in Boston the same way Isaiah Thomas was. He has a chance to go and save a franchise that is coming off of arguably their most frustrating season ever and he fits an immediate need for a point guard. This would be fun to watch.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
Kemba Walker is basketball in Charlotte.
While the path towards building a true contender around Walker in Charlotte is murky, especially if he were to sign for the full supermax, he's already established himself as the greatest player in franchise history and can continue to cement his legacy in that market like few others. Walker is beloved in Charlotte and you can make the argument that he means more to his franchise than any other star means to theirs. No other player in franchise history, past or present, comes close to matching what Walker has done in Charlotte.
There's something to be said for staying with one team for the entirety of a career and it's a bond between city and star that few have the opportunity to make. The Hornets took a chance on Walker when they made him the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and he's delivered above and beyond what anyone could have reasonably expected.
Should he stay, Walker can continue to forge what would likely become a Hall of Fame career once it's all said and done somewhere down the line. No matter what he decides, Walker in all likelihood will see his jersey hung in the rafters in Charlotte. But why stop there? Is it beyond the realm of possibility that he could one day have a statue? Or a floor or facility named after him?
Just as there's no guarantee he'll ever win big with the Hornets, there's also no guarantee he'll ever win big elsewhere. The grass isn't always greener.
- Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13)
The Mavericks, along with the Celtics, have reportedly emerged at the "front of the line" to sign Walker.
In terms of basketball fit, there's no better duo for Walker to join forces with than Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
On their own, they'd each be by far the best teammate he's ever had. Together, they'd form a big three that compliment each other perfectly.
Doncic may be coming off a rookie season, but plays beyond his years and has already demonstrated an ability to succeed as an on-the-ball playmaker that would not only take immense pressure off of Walker but also free him up to flourish off the ball. It's an area that Walker once flashed incredible potential as he shot over 46% on catch-and-shoot 3s back in 2016-17, his first season as an All-Star. That ranked first in the entire NBA that season among the nearly 100 players to attempts at least 200 of them.
Porzingis, meanwhile, would be the most versatile pick-and-roll partner that Walker has ever played with. Walker not only averaged more plays per game as a pick-and-roll ball handler than any player in the NBA last season but also ranked in the 91st percentile in points per possession, doing that playing beside Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams and Frank Kaminsky, among others. Porzingis, when healthy, is in another stratosphere as a scorer and his ability to pop would open up driving lanes for Walker the likes of which he's seen.
On paper, Dallas is already among the most intriguing teams as we have yet to see Doncic and Porzingis on the floor together. Add Walker to the mix and there aren't many teams that could match their varied offensive firepower.
- Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13)
Los Angeles Lakers
The New York Times' Mark Stein reported following the Anthony Davis trade to Los Angeles that Walker would be a "top target" for the Lakers in free agency.
This is another fit that makes plenty of sense for both Walker and the Lakers.
Los Angeles is still in need of a number of pieces to fill around LeBron James, AD and Kyle Kuzma. With a vacancy open at point guard, Walker would take this team to another level with his ability to play off-ball next to LeBron as a shooter or control the offence via pick-and-roll with Davis.
According to NBA.com's play type data, Walker led the league in pick-and-roll possessions per game (11.8) and pick-and-roll points per game (11.9), and that's with his primary pick-and-roll bigs being Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky and Bismack Biyombo. Imagine what this guy could do with a player of AD's calibre.
Walker would have a field day as a pick-and-roll ball handler with Davis or pick-and-pop ball handler with Kuzma. You could even throw him and LeBron into a two-man game that would leave defences baffled in trying to stop either All-Star from scoring or dishing to an open teammate.
Walker on the Lakers would make them even more of a title contender than they already are with just LeBron and AD. For the first time in his career, he'd be on a legitimate championship-calibre team and he would realistically be their third scoring option.
If Kemba wants to make life as easy as possible, L.A. should be his primary destination.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
New York Knicks
Being a New York native, it seems like Walker has in some way, shape or form been linked to the Knicks since he began his NBA career.
With his looming free agency, the Knicks had been a team that was constantly popping up next to Walker's name in the rumour mill. Would they try and bring Kemba home and pair him with superstars like Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard? Would they use Kemba as bait to bring guys of that calibre in? Is this just a rumour because New York is where he grew up, so there was assumed interest between the two parties?
All those questions remain unanswered, and there has been no clear indication that any big-named free agent plans to ink a deal with the Knicks.
So with that being said, Walker going to New York at the moment would be like Charlotte all over again. Sure, No. 3 overall pick in this year's NBA Draft RJ Barrett appears that he will be more talented than the majority of guys Walker has played with in his career thus far. There are some promising young pieces there with players like Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.
But would Kemba want to pass up furthering his legacy as the greatest player in Hornets' history to the tune of $221 million? Would he rather go to a rebuilding Knicks team than team up with two of the best players in the league in LA? If he's going to help shape out a young core, does New York really come off as more appealing than playing with Doncic/Porzingis or Brown/Tatum?
Those answers will be left up to the All-Star guard.
However, the Knicks will always at least seem to be an option for Kemba because that's where he was born and raised. It might not be the best option, but it is home.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
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