Point guard Kemba Walker’s contract is looking like an incredible deal for the Charlotte Hornets.
In October 2014 Walker signed a four-season, $48 million contract (it kicked in the following season), which took him beyond the rookie pay-scale deal he received as the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
Wow, what a bargain, between Walker’s performance since the signing and the dramatic inflation of point guards’ salaries in the NBA.
Walker was a first-time All-Star last season, selected as a reserve by the Eastern Conference coaches. He averaged 23.2 points (17th in the league) and 5.5 assists. After the 2015-16 season, Walker finished second to Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum in media voting for NBA Most Improved Player.
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Signing Kemba Walker to that extension was some of Rich Cho’s best work. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Walker erred in accepting that contract.
Consider the deals reportedly agreed to by point guards in the opening hours of NBA free agency Saturday:
▪ Golden State Warrior (and former Davidson star) Stephen Curry will make $201 million over five years. His average of about $40 million per season will be the highest among the four major U.S. team sports.
▪ New Orleans Pelican Jrue Holiday will make an average of $25.2 million over five seasons to re-sign with the Pelicans.
▪ Jeff Teague will make an average of $19 million over three seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Curry is a two-time NBA MVP for a team that has won the championship twice in the past three seasons. He has been underpaid for several seasons because when he signed his previous contract he was dealing with a chronic ankle injury.
However, the Holiday and Teague deals show both the inflation effect of the massive national television contracts the NBA signed with ABC/ESPN and Turner Sports and the crucial nature of point guard in the NBA.
Teague averaged 15.3 points and 7.8 assists last season. Holiday averaged 15.4 points and 7.3 assists. So Walker averaged more points and fewer assists – certainly comparable productivity.
It’s not just other point guards who illustrate what a bargain Walker is. Next season he will be the sixth-highest paid Hornet, behind Dwight Howard, Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller. Howard and Batum will each make almost twice what Walker will in 2017-18, after signing new contracts last July.
Signing Walker to that extension was some of Hornets general manager Rich Cho’s best work. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Walker erred in accepting that contract.
That second NBA contract assured that, regardless of health or performance, Walker was guaranteed $48 million. Walker valued that security over waiting to get to free agency.
Plus, he will be 29 when the current contract expires at a position NBA teams always prioritize. So he will almost certainly get another opportunity for a huge payday.