Two-time Charlotte Hornets All-Star point guard Kemba Walker couldn’t have been more emphatic Monday: He wants to stay, with the goal of finishing his NBA career here.
“This is where I want to be. I don’t want to be nowhere else,” Walker said at media day before the Hornets left for training camp in Chapel Hill.
“I want to create something special here in Charlotte, something we’ve never had here (in the NBA). I want to create some consistency.”
Walker has never previously reached unrestricted free agency in his seven NBA seasons, all spent in Charlotte. He figures to get a huge raise over his current $12 million-per-season salary via his next contract wherever he signs.
Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak has called Walker “the focal point of this franchise going forward.” However, there is no practical way under NBA rules for the Hornets to sign Walker to a future contract until he reaches free agency in July. So this will be a span of waiting and wondering as to Walker’s long-term status.
The Hornets will have the option to offer Walker more guaranteed money than any of the other 29 NBA franchises. But this will come down to more than just money. Walker indicated last season his decision will in part be about competitiveness; he wants the rest of his NBA career to be meaningful as far as frequent playoff appearances.
Only twice in his previous seven seasons did the Bobcats/Hornets qualify for the postseason. Neither of those appearances resulted in advancing beyond the first round.
Walker said Monday he aspires to finish what he started as far as the Hornets becoming a team that frequently qualifies for the playoffs and advances beyond the first round.
“I just want to be a part of it. That’s how I feel,” Walker said. “We haven’t been a consistently winning organization over the year and I want to be a part of that here in Charlotte.”
Walker said Monday is the only time he intends to discuss free agency this season. That’s understandable, but it’s unlikely this issue will go completely to rest, particularly around the February trade deadline when teams will inevitably check with the Hornets about Walker’s availability. Then-Hornets general manager Rich Cho had conversations with other NBA teams before last season’s trade deadline to assess Walker’s value.
Walker said he hasn’t discussed free agency in any length with Kupchak or owner Michael Jordan, but that he feels good about the relationship going forward.
“I’ve been saying this is where I want to be. This is the place I love,” Walker said. “I’m just really confident I’ll be here, that they’ll figure it out.”
Walker made a big jump in productivity starting n the 2015-16 season, particularly in improved 3-point shooting. He said he feels no added pressure from free agency pending.
“You can’t base it on one year. I’ve been playing great basketball over the last couple of years,” Walker said. “I’m not worrying about it.”