Kemba Walker signed a 4 year, $141 million deal with the Boston Celtics. Though it is interesting, it is equally as confusing and disappointing. Let’s start with some context, though. Kemba was the 9th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the then Charlotte Bobcats. Walker spent the last eight years of his career in that hell hole, with just two playoff appearances (the last being in 2015-16). He did however make three all star appearances, and this past season he made the All NBA Third Team. He has proven to be one of the best guards in the entire league, and one of the biggest names on the market this summer.
It was time for Walker to move on. Charlotte has done nothing but embarrass themselves during Walker’s tenure (and long before it too, but I digress). Not only have they been god awful even by Eastern Conference standards, but have handed terrible contracts to any average player willing to take them (see Nicholas Batum). The franchise has had zero sense of direction and identity. Walker is simply too talented to be wasting away in such an abysmal situation. Yet for some reason, he made it public that he would be willing to take less than the max deal to stay put. (That seems to be a strange little detail now, since there’s reports that Walker felt lowballed, but it certainly was worth noting). The NBA community simultaneously sighed at the idea of walker spending 5 more years in basketball limbo.
The idea of Kemba staying in Charlotte even more disappointing considering the teams that were interested in acquiring him. The Lakers were an obvious suitor, trying to pair him with LeBron and AD. The Clippers and Knicks each had cap space, and the idea of Kemba being a plan B to team up with Kawhi or KD was just as intriguing. Or teams like Indiana or Utah, who were a point guard away from being legitimate title contenders. We all wanted Walker to find a home that would help him compete for titles for the first time in his career.
Then Boston came out of nowhere. Literally, out of nowhere. The news suddenly came in that they were the “stealth suitor” for Kemba. And just like that, it was a done deal. But why? Walker agreed to sign with Boston before free agency even opened. He never met with another team. Why not give the Lakers a chance? Why not take a meeting with New York or Indiana? The fact that he was never really a free agent was so weird, so unnecessary.
The other question has to be, why Boston? What was so appealing about the Celtics? The team that just wildly underachieved. The team that had one of the shakiest locker room situations in the whole league. The team that’s proven they can’t win with a score first point guard. It made no sense. Again, teaming up with LeBron, KD, Kawi or Oladipo made much more sense. Even if he wanted to be the number one guy, why not take a meeting with New York? Yet he chooses Boston before free agency even started. He didn’t even wait to see how the roster would pan out. Kyrie, Horford, Morris and Rozier were all gone. The Hayward situation is still a tricky one. The only legitimate pieces there are Tatum, Brown and Smart. It made no sense for him to make up his mind so quickly.
As for Boston, why Kemba? Yes, he’s a great player. He’s a top six point guard. But you just had a miserable Kyrie experiment. Why bring in another score first guard? And with Horford and Morris on their way out the door, shouldn’t the obvious decision be to rebuild around Brown and Tatum? Kemba is phenomenal, but he’s not a franchise alter-er. His presence don’t propel you into championship contention. If anything, he’s a small downgrade from Irving.
Boston also got significantly worse this summer. They go from Irving to Walker, a move some view as a downgrade, one that others call an upgrade. So let’s call it an equal return. Regardless, they lose Horford and add Kanter, a clear downgrade. They lose Rozier. They lose Morris. And as I sit here typing this, they haven’t added anyone notable to fill out the roster.
So yes, this is a total lose-lose situation. Ainge is missing out on a rebuild, continuing to hinder the talent of the “assets” he so highly values. The Celtics as a team used up a max contract spot, only to be worse than last year. Kemba passed up on title contention. Rozier is in Charlotte (probably the biggest L of the whole debacle). This is a mess from top to bottom, and probably the most confusing and disappointing events in what’s been such an incredible free agency.