Charlotte Hornets

How badly did the Charlotte Hornets damage their relationship with Kemba Walker?

Here’s what Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker said about the possibility of a trade

Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker addresses ESPN report that the team has made him available in trade discussions. Walker talks about how he feels about Charlotte, a city where he is building a new home, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.
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Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker addresses ESPN report that the team has made him available in trade discussions. Walker talks about how he feels about Charlotte, a city where he is building a new home, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.

The question isn’t just whether the relationship between Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets ever will be the same.

It’s whether that relationship ever can be the same.

Friday morning, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Hornets general manager Rich Cho has been soliciting offers from other NBA teams for All-Star point guard Walker. Wojnarowski, the best news-breaker in NBA circles, described the Hornets as “eager” to include Walker in a trade that could discard one of the team’s burdensome contracts.

Midday Friday, Walker agreed to a large group interview following practice. That, in itself, had to be difficult. He had to know the questions wouldn’t be about the matchup with the Miami Heat or the Hornets’ 7-3 record of late. They’d be about whether the only team he’s known in a six-season-plus NBA career was fine with sending him packing.

Walker, 27, has always been a classy, accountable guy in Charlotte. He’s such a product of great parenting. There is no better example of that than how Walker stood there answering difficult question after difficult question.

Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho’s pursuit of Gordon Hayward in the summer of 2014 was a predictable failure. David T. Foster III

He said he’d be devastated if the Hornets traded him, that he has a bond with his coach, Steve Clifford, that is special, that it would mean plenty to someday retire having played continuously for the team that drafted him in 2011. Rather than a cut-and-run strategy, he aspires to be part of the solution here.

Yeah, that’s the guy you want out of Charlotte as soon as possible. …

Hey, I’m not saying Walker is untouchable. There are a zillion examples of players more accomplished than Walker (one All-Star appearance) who have been traded. An example here in Charlotte would be center Alonzo Mourning, who was dealt to the Miami Heat in 1995 and went on to a Hall of Fame career.

However, Walker has established roots in Charlotte few other athletes have reached. He’s there all the time to do charity work. He rode out some insanely bad times (a 7-59 record his rookie season) and he was immediately in new coach Clifford’s office back in the spring of 2013, stepping up to be an agent of change.

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford addresses the report that the team has put Kemba Walker on the NBA trading block on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.

The results haven’t been great: two playoff appearances in the past four seasons, neither of which reached the second round. I understand why some in the fan base see the only recourse as yet another rebuild.

Then, ask yourself these two questions: First, do you want to start over minus Walker, who excels at the most important position in basketball? Second, do you trust this basketball operation to get it right this time?

If you asked me for a one-word description of what troubles the Hornets’ basketball operation, it would be “clumsy.” An example:

In the summer of 2014, Cho launched an intricate sales pitch to sign restricted free agent Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz. Following a visit to Charlotte that included a video-game presentation (Hayward’s favorite hobby), Hayward agreed to sign a four-year, $63 million offer sheet.

The pitch worked; the strategy didn’t, and predictably so. My friend Jody Gennesy, who covered the Jazz at the time for the Deseret News, would laugh daily at the notion the then-Bobcats actually thought there was any chance the Jazz wouldn’t exercise the right to match the Hayward offer sheet.

Of course Utah did, which led to a greater misadventure: signing Lance Stephenson during Las Vegas Summer League. Stephenson was every bit as odd a dude in Charlotte as he’d indicated in his first stint with the Indiana Pacers. This was an awful signing, and after a single season the Hornets dealt Stephenson to the Los Angeles Clippers for the long past-their-prime Spencer Hawes and Matt Barnes.

Like I said – clumsy – and that word applies to the end of last week for the Hornets.

Between Clifford’s health crisis, Nic Batum missing the first six weeks of the season and, now, Cody Zeller’s knee surgery, it’s been one bad break after another this season for the Hornets.

But what happened Friday wasn’t a bad break. It was bad form.

It was clumsy.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

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