Charlotte Horners’ Kemba Walker on being all-in on his city
Somewhere along the way to that exquisite 21-point fourth quarter Monday, Kemba Walker had to let it all out:
“This is my city. That’s a (expletive) bet!” he screamed during a stoppage of play in the Charlotte Hornets’ 117-112 victory over the Boston Celtics.
What more can he say at this point? What more can he do to back it up? In the past two games Walker has compiled 103 points on 35-of-59 shooting. He is the NBA’s scoring leader at 29.6 points per game. He is playing at a level where hearing an “MVP” chant in the fourth quarter didn’t feel contrived.
He knows you love him, Charlotte. And he loves you back.
“I think they know,” Walker said of his affection and attachment to his team and his town. “I’ve said it so many times. The way I play each and every night, I leave it all on the court. That’s for this organization and for this city.
“So, yeah, that’s how I show it.”
Walker could not have been more direct and emphatic the day before training camp began in September, saying he wants to be here for the long haul. He becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in July.
The price tag will be unprecedented in franchise history — a maximum contract would be $189 million over five seasons and would jump to $221 million if Walker qualifies for a “super-max,” as he would by being All-NBA this season.
If he continues on this trajectory, those heights — All-NBA team, All-Star Game starter in Charlotte, Most Valuable Player discussion — would be reachable. That is fairly amazing for a guy who is 6-1 in a sport of giants. But so far in an 8-8 season, Walker has been as dynamic a player as there has been in the 30-year history of the NBA in Charlotte.
You know who understood that better than anyone at Spectrum Center Monday? The man who would sign off on offering Walker the max. I passed Hornets owner Michael Jordan in a hallway near the locker rooms after Monday’s victory. The look of elation and contentment as Jordan left with his family was illustrative.
Remember, Jordan was the one in the Hornets organization most captivated by Walker’s will and composure during Connecticut’s run to the national championship in 2011. Jordan knows what greatness in basketball looks like, and I don’t picture him letting it slip away.
The real question is how the Hornets will find a second option who night after night can take some scoring burden off Walker. What they must ask of Walker now is massively taxing.
‘When you’re on a roll like that...’
Teammate Nic Batum looked admiringly at Walker post-game and mentioned that fatigue when a player is on this level of competitive high seems non-existent.
“When you’re on a roll like that, you’re unconscious. You just go out there and play,” said Batum, who recalled similar heady spans for Damian Lillard when Batum played for the Portland Trail Blazers.
“When everything is going your way, you just keep killing. That’s what he’s been doing the last three or four weeks.”
Walker views this as a compelling sense of responsibility: That for the Hornets to have a memorable season, he has to be great most nights, and not just for portions of games. So if it takes a 43-point performance Monday, two nights removed from a career-best 60 points against the Philadelphia 76ers, so be it.
“Being tired is a mental thing. This is what I work for in the summers. This is what I work for now. When my team needs me, there is no time to be tired. This (post-game) is my time to be tired.”
Then Walker expanded his thought, acknowledging the weight he bears for the Hornets’ prospects.
“You can’t” wear down, Walker said. “Especially when you’re in the situation that I’m in. My teammates are looking for me to make a play.
“I don’t want to take a shot and miss it and blame it on me being tired.”
The missing complement
Walker needs help. He already has support in shooting guard Jeremy Lamb, small forward Batum and backup point guard Tony Parker. But each has limitations: Lamb missed two free throws late Monday. Batum was the in-bounds passer when the Hornets committed a five-second violation. Parker, for all of his skill and gravitas, is 36, so he can’t make a difference every game.
The best candidates on the current roster are still far from their peaks. Rookie Miles Bridges is still learning NBA-level defensive rotations and gets confused. Monk, in his second NBA season, is going through a brutal shooting slump that has trimmed his playing time. Monk has shot 3-of-26 from the field in his past four games, and 0-of-16 from 3-point range.
Can Monk or Bridges improve rapidly enough to be have major impact this season? Perhaps, but not likely. If the Hornets are going to find Walker quick help, it probably must come via trade.
The Washington Wizards are reportedly reacting to a 5-11 start and bickering in the locker room by entertaining trade offers.
Is there a deal for the likes of Bradley Beal or Otto Porter? Who knows, but trades have always been this franchise’s favorite transaction.
Sooner or later they must ensure that Walker’s prime — a glorious prime — doesn’t go to waste.