Yesterday afternoon, multiple sources reported that Kemba Walker and the Boston Celtics had reached an agreement to part ways over the off-season. This brings up multiple questions such as what happened? Where will he be traded to and what for?
Let’s address those questions (and more!) as I break down the past, present, and future of Kemba Walker’s stint in Boston.
To begin, let’s discuss Walker’s time with the Celtics. After the 2018-19 season, Danny Ainge and the Celtics’ management decided it was time to move on from multiple of their top stars and put the franchise in the hands of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Kyrie Irving left, Al Horford left, and Marcus Morris left. Aaron Baynes was traded on draft night to the Suns and Terry Rozier was traded for Kemba Walker. The Cs then signed Enes Kanter and re-signed Daniel Theis to make up for the losses in the frontcourt. They used both their first-round picks and both their second-round picks to bring in some youth off the bench.
Overall, it was an off-season full of both wins and losses.
One of those wins was Walker, he earned every bit of the maximum contract the Boston Celtics signed him to leading up to the All-Star break, in which he was named a starter. In his first 30 games for Boston, he averaged 22.5 points and 5.2 assists. He shot 39.8% on 9.1 3PA and maintained a 58.3 TS%.
He willed the young Celtics over multiple teams they had no business beating and was a catalyst in their 22-8 record. The UCONN product looked like the All-Star, All NBA talent that the Celtics pursued in free agency, and nobody could be happier for him.
Then he began to miss games with knee soreness, which the Celtics assured was not anything major. But the decrease in production, burst, and lift on his shots told the fans all they needed to know. Kemba averaged 18.1 points and 4.3 assists on 56 TS% for the remainder of the season. No longer was he blowing by bigs like he used to, wasn’t pulling up against drop coverage like he used to, he wasn’t as aggressive as he used to be.
It became even more obvious that he wasn’t the same when he came back after a 4-month hiatus and still was being load-managed.
In the bubble playoffs, he averaged 19.6 points and 5.1 assists on 56.9 TS%. Solid numbers as a third option, but the truth reveals itself in the later rounds of the playoffs. Walker had six playoff games where he did not hit 19 points, and 8 games shooting under 45% from the field. He shot 31% from the 3-point line in the playoffs and was inconsistent as the playoffs dragged on.
After the Celtics were subsequently eliminated in the playoffs, it was rumored that Kemba Walker would be dealt after his chronic knee issues played a large part in blowing the C’s shot at their first finals since the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce era. Those rumors did not come to fruition and Walker remained on the Boston Celtics for what would be their worst season since Brad Stevens took over as head coach.
There was a multitude of reasons for the Celtics’ struggles such as Jayson Tatum getting COVID, multiple key role players getting quarantined and Marcus Smart nearly tearing his Achilles early in the year. But Kemba Walker’s knee was arguably the best season the Celtics could not create any sort of traction throughout the year.
He missed 29 games, did not play a single back-to-back, and was more often than not a detriment to the team when he was healthy. With no burst and fear of reinjuring his knee, Walker did not offer much to the Boston Celtics when he was on the floor. He was not comfortable as a third or even fourth option being Boston’s established corps and his production showed just that. He averaged 19.3 points and 4.9 assists on 55.9 TS%.
His load management program hampered the Celtics’ ability to attain a higher seed in the Eastern Conference, so they were forced to play the Brooklyn Nets in the first round. They were beaten in 5 games with ease, but the significance of the series was that Walker only played 3 of the 5 games. All those missed games, all that time missed, just for Walker to not be healthy come playoff time which needs I remind you, was the entire point of the load management program.
That brings us to where we currently are, approaching the off-season relying on rumors and bits of information to figure out what Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics might do over the summer. With Stevens getting the shortest end of the stick when it came to Walker’s inconsistent availability, it was reasonable to assume he would not curse the next Celtic coach with the same burden. The recent reports only support what common sense would have already concluded. So, what happened to Walker now that the nail has supposedly already sealed the coffin?
There are a handful of working theories such as a possible Porzingis for Walker swap, a trade that sends Walker to the Knicks, or a potential reunion with one of the most reliable centers in Cs history.
The latter seems to be the most luckily seeing as Boston has the need for Horford, the contract to match his salary, and the most attractive pool of assets for Presti to choose from. If the Thunder are not satisfied with a direct Horford for Walker swap, Stevens could add any of the Celtics’ future draft picks or even a struggling young player at the end of the bench.
With Horford making $27 million in 2021-22 and turning 36 in the same year, it’s unlikely he will cost the war chest but it is imperative that the Cs get him before anyone else can. He brings some much-needed size, shooting, defense and leadership and won’t intercede the Boston Celtics resigning Marcus Smart the following season since Horford is only guaranteed $14.5 million in 2022-23.
It will be the Celtics’ one and only chance to move off Kemba’s contract while bringing back someone that can help them compete for a championship, if they whiff on him they’ll have to settle for some underwhelming pieces while also giving up picks to get off of his contract.
It’s a shame that Kemba Walker’s time with Boston ended the way that it did, but priority number one for the Celtics’ newly acquainted front office should be moving him off of the roster and bringing someone who can contribute. That guy is Al Horford, he needs to be brought back if the Cs want to bounce back from their previous failure of a season.