Kemba Walker has developed himself into one of the top point guards in the game, earning his first All-NBA selection in 2019 as a member of the third team.
As one of the NBA’s top free agents this summer, Walker will likely earn top dollar despite playing zero minutes during this past postseason. Walker averaged 25.6 points, 5.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds in the 2018-19 campaign.
From the looks of things, Walker wants to stay in Charlotte. The question at hand involves the dollar sign on his next contract. Walker can make up to $221 million over a five-year deal as a result of his All-NBA team selection, and the Hornets have a lot of bad contracts on their payroll. Bismack Biyombo has $17 million coming his way next season, while Cody Zeller’s due $14.4 million, and Michael Kid-Gilchrist is also set to make $13 million. All of that plus the fact that the Hornets have to deal with Nicolas Batum’s five-year, $120 million albatross of a contract and the issue isn’t really if the Hornets want to keep Walker, but can they?
Charlotte remains a top option because of Walker’s affinity for the only NBA home he’s known, but it’s no sure thing. Here are the top five free agency destinations for Walker this summer.
Los Angeles Lakers
LA just landed Anthony Davis in exchange for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart. Walker could be a better fit with LeBron James, and a potential pairing has been compared to what James had with Kyrie Irving.
Kemba’s arrival would allow him to finally shine for a major market team, and he will get to play with the type of talent he never had in Charlotte – Hall of Fame worthy talent at that. With the Lakers trading Ball away, they have nobody to run the point, and with the direction the Lakers are heading, it seems they want an All-Star, even All-NBA caliber point guard behind James and Davis to create their new Big Three.
The Lakers reportedly really want him as that third piece of the puzzle. However, their biggest challenge may money. Walker would undoubtedly win more in L.A., but the Lakers can’t offer the type of money the Hornets can with their supermax extension on the table. Walker would give up at least $50 million in guaranteed money if he left Charlotte for the Lakers, but he’d join a legitimate, almost guaranteed playoff team.
New York Knicks
There are many positives for a Kemba-to-New York move.
First off, he was born in the Bronx and raised in New York City, so the marketing around a potential New York homecoming would be something that Knicks fans can look forward to since they’re probably not getting Kevin Durant (and even if they do, he wouldn’t be available at all next season). From all accounts, he loves his hometown, and a return seems realistic.
The Knicks have been undergoing an unsuccessful rebuild since 2014, and haven’t had a star point guard in a very long time. Walker is still in his prime and doesn’t bring an attitude and history of clashing with the media like Irving, or the inexperience a rookie like R.J. Barrett would exhibit if he were given complete control from day one.
The Knicks need a point guard and have the money. Walker would benefit from playing for a major-market team, and his hometown no less. This could be a perfect marriage.
The Hornets’ biggest threat to take Walker away may just be the Dallas Mavericks, a team that needs a star point guard after trading Dennis Smith Jr. to the Knicks and a team regularly linked to the big free agents of the summer. Like the Knicks, they have the money to sign Walker easily and can pitch a bright future playing alongside Luka Doncic. Once they re-sign Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks could have a dangerous trio should Walker sign with them.
Having another threat on the floor would help both Doncic and Walker, two primary options accustomed to having a defense’s full attention. Walker shoots about 35% from beyond the arc, but the defense having to keep an eye on another elite offensive option like Doncic, Walker could improve on that in 2019-20 in Dallas. He’s also a playmaker at the point guard that would help take the pressure to create off Doncic and Porzingis.
The Pacers are going to be in the market for a new point guard should Darren Collison decide to leave the team for free agency at the end of the month. They’ll have more than enough cap room, and if all of the stars align and the Pacers decide to make a splash, Walker would be a great fit in Indiana.
He’d pair well with Victor Oladipo in the backcourt, and Oladipo would welcome an All-Star caliber point guard who would let him ease back into the game after suffering a ruptured quad last year without the team suffering for it.
The Pacers need a guard that can score, and Collison was fine, but not great. If anything, Walker can score. He scored a career-best 60 against the Sixers early in the season and had a seven-game stretch where he averaged 31.7 points per game, dropping a high of 41 during the stretch. Then, had another seven-game stretch where he averaged 29.7 points per game. He averaged 25.6 points per game on the year, shooting 35% from three and 43% from the floor.
The potential of Walker landing in Indiana may not be on the radar in comparison to high-profile franchises like the Lakers and Knicks, but Walker has a chance to win, reach the playoffs and play with some kind of talent he doesn’t have in Charlotte.
If all else doesn’t seem too appealing, Walker could just stay in Charlotte, get paid really well, and this entire article was made for nothing. Besides, he already likes it in Charlotte. He doesn’t have to deal with the spotlight, likes the slower-paced lifestyle and can just be normal, all things he said to Bleacher Report earlier this year.
The Hornets can offer big money for Walker to stay in a place he’s considered home for a long time, but their current cap situation and failure to put talent around him plays against them. Walker, while getting a supermax deal north of over $200 million, would stay with a team that hasn’t won nor was built around him after playing on one of the biggest bargain contracts in the NBA over the last four years. It’ll end up being five years of his prime in more of the same situation.
With a chance to make way more money, Charlotte seems like a fallback option should all else fail this summer.