The Boston Celtics' season from hell is mercifully over and all eyes now turn towards the offseason, where big decisions will have to be made. The biggest is probably what to do with Evan Fournier, now a free agent after the Celtics spent four second-round picks and over half of the Gordon Hayward trade exception to bring him at the trade deadline. But that isn't the most intriguing decision they may have to make.
No, the most interesting part of the Boston offseason will be what they do with Kemba Walker. Walker missed the final two games of their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets after suffering a bone bruise in his knee. Before that, he was just short of abysmal on the court; Walker couldn't find his shot against a long Nets defense and when he isn't scoring his defensive deficiencies become impossible to ignore or justify. It caps off a tough season for Walker, whose stretches of greatness were overshadowed by load management and missed time thanks to other knee issues that carried over from the bubble playoffs.
It took less than 24 hours for rumors about his future to surface. Brian Robb of MassLive reports the team is expected to shop Walker this coming offseason:
Kemba Walker is one of the most overpaid players in the NBA and league sources expect the Celtics to explore moving him in a trade to help create some current and future salary flexibility and reduce what is currently set to be the highest tax bill in team history (if the team wants to re-sign Fournier for market value).
This is a directive that most likely will not change if Danny Ainge does step down from his role as GM, as Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Wednesday morning. Robb notes that Walker is one of the most overpaid players in the NBA and he is correct. The former All-Star point guard is owed $73 million over the next two seasons and averaged all of 19.3 points and 4.9 assists on 42 percent shooting from the floor in 2021 while missing nearly a third of the shortened season.
Shop all they might, the Celtics are not going to be able to dump that contract without taking on a similarly onerous deal in return, which would then make a trade pointless. When he's healthy and rolling, Walker is a solid source of production and battles hard on defense to make up for the size differential he faces against pretty much every backcourt in the league. But his availability has deteriorated significantly over the last 12 months and knee injuries to small guards who rely on explosiveness to produce may as well be a gigantic flashing warning sign to other franchises.
In a vacuum, there's a chance Boston could get an up-and-coming team who would like a motivated veteran to help out the locker room to take a chance. But the aforementioned remaining salary on Walker's contract will prevent basically anybody from talking themselves into a trade. The money he's owed combined with injuries impacting both availability and production means a transaction of any type will be extremely difficult to come by, much less one that leaves the Celtics with the salary cap room they're hoping to free up by trading him.
And that's just it. Boston isn't going to trade Walker just to get rid of him. He's a liability in the playoffs but good enough in the regular season to help win games when he's healthy, even if the future remains murky due to his injuries. The only universe in which Walker ends up in a different uniform next year is if the Celtics sell as low as possible. They aren't going to do that. Walker is not Chandler Parsons, unable to do anything except get paid. He's still a fine basketball player, just not worth the contract he's on and no longer a potential centerpiece of a championship team.
The Celtics would like to trade Walker if it frees up cap room and gives them financial flexibility heading into the offseason. No team is going to do them that favor in return for an aging, undersized point guard with lower-body issues that will probably affect the rest of his career. So we may as well get used to seeing Walker in that green-and-white uniform, because he's staying for next year at least.