Charlotte Hornets

Saturday night’s record performance should seal it: Kemba Walker, Hornet for life

Kemba Walker on his 60-point night

Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker has a record 60-point game
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Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker has a record 60-point game

Here are the active NBA players who have scored 60 or more points in a single game: Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Klay Thompson, Devin Booker, James Harden...

Kemba Walker.

All but the last of those has already received at least one maximum salary-type contract. Walker posted 60 Saturday in the Charlotte Hornets’ 122-119 overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Pay the man.

I’m not implying that won’t happen. Hornets owner Michael Jordan isn’t cheap; he demonstrated that when he signed off on $120 million for Nic Batum. Jordan is the one who was so intrigued by Walker’s potential entering the 2011 draft. Fortunately, Walker was still around when the Hornets selected ninth.

It’s one thing to invest a lottery pick on someone, quite another to pay him the prescribed max of $189 million over five years (potentially $221 million if Walker is voted All-NBA this season). But that’s what it would take to prevent Walker from even considering other options once he reaches unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career, come July.

There was a time when I thought the Hornets should consider trading Walker because I felt they were destined to need a rebuild, and that would run counter to what Walker would see as his best career path. General manager Mitch Kupchak has so far overseen a less extensive makeover. It’s a blend of the old guard - Walker, Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lamb - with some freshening via Miles Bridges and Malik Monk.

Jordan told me last February he wouldn’t consider trading Walker for anything less than another All-Star. I doubt something that tempting will come the Hornets’ way, and even if it did, would you ship off Walker - a guy who has repeatedly expressed his affection for Charlotte and the Hornets - for something else?

He might be the smallest elite player in the NBA at 6-foot-1, but he’s by far the best thing that has happened to professional basketball in this city since the NBA returned in 2004.

‘A beast’

“A beast!” Lamb kept repeating Saturday post-game, reviewing what Walker did. Lamb has played with Walker longer than anyone else on this roster, having been a teammate at Connecticut when Walker dragged that team to the national championship.

Check out Walker’s numbers: His 60 points topped his own single-game franchise scoring record of 52. That is also the most by any NBA player in one game this season. The last time a player reached 60 was Houston Rockets star Harden last January.

Walker was so Jordan-esque Saturday, making 21 of 34 shots, that when he banked in a 3-pointer he turned away from the basket and did an unturned-palm shrug. That appeared to be an homage to Jordan’s famous expression when he kept hitting 3s in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1992 NBA Finals.

“Anyone would shrug,” Walker said of his reaction.

Walker couldn’t fully enjoy what he accomplished Saturday because of what happened at the end of the game; newly-acquired 76er Jimmy Butler hit a pull-up 3-pointer with three-tenths of a second left in overtime for the victory. That came after Butler blocked two of Walker’s shots late in this one.

The Hornets had come back from as much as a 17-point deficit to lead by five early in the fourth quarter. But again they lost a close game. They are 1-6 in games decided by four points or less, falling to a 7-8 season record.

Walker kept describing himself as ticked off, except he used a less family-friendly term for that frustration. He said he appreciated what he did Saturday, but could enjoy it only so much.

‘Where I want to be’

Walker announced the day before training camp commenced that he’d discuss free agency that day and not again the rest of the season. Highlighting what he said that day:

“This is where I want to be. I don’t want to be nowhere else.”

“I want to create something special here in Charlotte, something we’ve never had here: I want to create some consistency.”

That sure doesn’t sound like a guy craving to go home to New York City. Kupchak reiterated at the season’s outset that he and Jordan desire for Walker to finish his career as a Hornet.

He says he wants to be here. They say they want him to stay. This can’t be addressed until Walker reaches unrestricted status in July. Then, end it quickly.

Pay the man.