Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak said Friday he would like to see point guard Kemba Walker end his career here.
Don’t construe that as Kupchak ruling out a trade of Walker, who has one season left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019.
“He is on a (contract) that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out (the best course) before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak said, in response to an Observer question about Walker’s status.
In other words, the Hornets have no realistic way under NBA rules to sign Walker beyond his current contract until that contract expires. That leaves the possibility of the Hornets losing Walker to another team in a year without any compensation.
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Walker became the Hornets’ career scorer in April, seven seasons into his career. Kupchak knew Walker only from a distance before being hired as general manager. So if there was something new in Kupchak’s comments Friday it was his assessing how good Walker is and how beloved he is in Charlotte.
“I think he is revered in this community. I know ownership, and myself included, look at him as the focal point of this franchise going forward,” Kupchak said.
“(Walker) is a player that we hope is with us, not only for the next couple of years, but he ends his career here.”
Which spoke to whether the Hornets are in rebuild mode. They have agreed to a trade with the Brooklyn Nets, which can’t be official until July 6, that will send veteran center Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets for center Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks and some cash. A benefit of that trade is getting the Hornets far enough below the luxury-tax threshold that they’d have the option to spend the full midlevel exception of $8.6 million this summer on a free agent.
Kupchak has said repeatedly since taking the job in April that the intent is not to blow up the roster wholesale. Part of that is what he can and can’t do with a roster loaded with large guaranteed contracts for veteran players that are hard to unload.
“I don’t know if you would say we are retooling,” Kupchak said at a post-draft news conference. “We are dealing with the roster as it is today, and we have a veteran roster.”
What that appears to mean, for now, is a roster that won’t look radically different from last season, a team still looking to make the playoffs. But also with a new coach in James Borrego and a sprinkling of youth in two rookies: first-round forward Miles Bridges from Michigan State and second-round point guard Devonte Graham from Kansas.