Selected to his third All-Star Game this year, Kemba Walker continues to stand out as one as the most underrated point guards in the NBA. Averaging about 25 points, five assists and four rebounds this season, Walker has kept the Charlotte Hornets afloat and in the playoff picture. While he is the face of the franchise, Walker’s free agency is around the corner. He will have the choice of returning to Charlotte, or taking his talents elsewhere. What makes the most sense for him?
Unsurprisingly, the Hornets’ number one priority is to re-sign Walker this summer. “It’s not a secret he’s a free agent coming up,” said head coach James Borrego. “He understands that and he’s playing like it.”
Losing Walker to a bigger market in free agency would be crippling to the Hornets. However, the team’s track record doesn’t inspire much confidence in the future. In his seven seasons with Charlotte, Walker, the ninth pick in the 2011 Draft, has only seen the playoffs twice. Even in the weaker Eastern Conference, the Hornets have reliably finished under .500.
A big reason for the franchise’s lack of success comes down to ownership. While Michael Jordan is considered the greatest of all time as a player, his management skills are arguably the among the league’s worst.
Jordan gave massive contracts to the likes of Nicholas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Tyler Zeller and Marvin Williams. It’s hard to build a talented team around a star point guard with that kind of salary cap restriction.
Kemba Walker is 1 of 6 Hornets lottery picks since Michael Jordan became majority owner in 2010.
He’s the only one to make an All-Star team. pic.twitter.com/cXyh2W8kF0
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 19, 2018
Walker re-signing with Charlotte would say a lot about his commitment to the team. Currently, the Hornets have several bad contracts, with minimal young talent to make up for it.
Loyalty is a virtue in the NBA, and it would be easier to envision Walker staying if the team was trending upward. While currently hanging on to the seventh seed, the Hornets’ long-term vision seems stagnate.
One of the most talked about destinations for Walker, should he choose to leave the Hornets, is the New York Knicks. Walker grew up and played high school basketball in the Bronx, and returning home may appeal to him. While the Knicks have been bad for the better part of two decades, there is still the appeal of playing in the “Mecca,” Madison Square Garden.
“MSG is a special place, the Knicks are a special team,” said Walker last year. “Of course I was a Knicks fan growing up. But like I said, I really can’t see myself in a Knicks jersey, only because I’ve only been in one jersey.”
In the Kristaps Porzingis trade, the Knicks acquired DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews, who are likely to get bought out. This gives the Knicks enough cap space for multiple max contract players. Making only $12 million a year, Walker’s next deal will likely earn him max money.
After surprisingly dealing the team’s main asset, the Knicks have cleared the decks in hopes of landing a superstar. There has been plenty of rumors surrounding Kyrie Irving heading to the Big Apple.
If Irving playing point guard for New York doesn’t materialize, the Knicks could shift their focus to Walker. Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmy Butler are all names the Knicks could be targeting as well. Walker alongside Durant would be a fantastic duo to watch, should the Knicks be so lucky and land both.
Kemba & The King?
L.A. could be also landing spot for the 28-year-old Walker. Should he leave Charlotte, it will almost certainly be for a large market team, such as New York or Los Angeles. LeBron James having Walker at the point would give him a strong second option, reminiscent of his duo with Irving in Cleveland.
Walker should be on the Lakers’ short list of free agents if he isn’t already. Not only is Walker a fantastic player, but he is also attainable. Klay Thompson is expected to be one of the Lakers’ top targets, but the Warriors will likely give him a max deal and retain him. Irving rejoining LeBron? Not too likely.
Anthony Davis could be becoming a Laker regardless, either in a trade this summer, or 2020 free agency. Add Walker to Davis and James and the Lakers are the new favorites in the west. These three together would give the Warriors a real run for their money, should they keep their core together.
Wherever Walker chooses to go, the money will follow. Walker has proved himself to be worth a big contract. While likely not enough to be the best player on a contender, Walker’s scoring and passing skills could make him a great second option on a championship team.
The question for him comes down to if he believes in Charlotte moving forward. Walker is now in his prime,and deserves a real shot at competing for an NBA title. Currently, the Hornets don’t offer that. Unless some radical changes to the roster come, Walker should keep his eyes open for a more appealing destination.