Charlotte Hornets Kemba Walker on playing in New York
Kemba Walker’s favorite part of Sunday’s statistics wasn’t his 25 points. Wasn’t his six assists. Wasn’t his four steals.
It was his zero fourth-quarter minutes.
He was thrilled to build a 21-point lead at the end of the third quarter, then sit back and watch as the Charlotte Hornets beat the New York Knicks 119-107. The Knicks might be bad at 8-20, but the Hornets playing against bad on the road this season has often been nothing but disappointment.
They lost in Atlanta, they lost in Cleveland, and they lost in Chicago. So they were certainly capable of also losing at Madison Square Garden, even if that is probably Walker’s favorite basketball court in the world.
That Walker has been so masterful in this building, including a Big East Tournament run that launched Connecticut to the 2011 national championship, naturally had New York media asking the Bronx native if he’d be receptive to playing for the Knicks once he’s a free agent in July. Walker cut off that line of questioning politely but firmly post-game.
“I don’t have any interest in coming back home right now,” Walker said. “I’m in the season.”
As in, don’t bug me with these hypothetical questions. Walker was emphatic the day before training camp in late September that his preference is to re-sign with the Hornets. The way Walker has played so far — Knicks coach David Fizdale called Walker an “absolute nightmare” to guard — he sure looked like a maximum-salary guy Sunday.
There were two Hornets drawing big media crowds post-game: Walker and his backup, Tony Parker. The French media presence in New York was drawn to Parker a couple of locker stalls away. Parker had a big game as well, scoring 16 points off the bench on 6-of-13 shooting.
Walker was asked about Parker’s presence as a Hornet this season, and what value it has to him.
When asked if there are still things he can learn from 18-season pro Parker, a former NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, Walker replied, “I’m no genius.”
That’s one of the endearing things about Walker: For all of his accomplishments, he’s not smug. He believes there is plenty he can still learn about the craft, and Parker has more to reveal.
Walker said he studied Parker’s point guard play long before Parker arrived in Charlotte. Years ago one of Walker’s previous coaches in Charlotte, Paul Silas, used to give him videos of Parker operating in the pick-and-roll with the San Antonio Spurs.
What Walker said post-game reinforces something Hornets coach James Borrego, a former Spurs assistant, mentioned pre-game. Borego was asked how Walker received Parker’s decision to sign in Charlotte. Borrego said Walker’s reaction wasn’t about roles or minutes distribution, it was to revel in a chance to learn from Parker.
Walker will forever be asked about the attraction of New York, much the way former Davidson star Stephen Curry has always been asked about Charlotte. It was the first question posed Sunday once Walker showered and dressed.
“I mean, I’m home. This is where I’m from,” Walker replied. “I’m pretty sure anyone that goes home to play where they’re from, it’s exciting to them.”
Does that leave Walker in some New York state of mind? Probably on some level, but I also know he means it when he says his heart is with the Hornets.
If he’s not in Charlotte next fall, it sure won’t be because he’s planning any sort of exit strategy.