I was caught off-guard, as were other Charlotte media members, by the Charlotte Hornets’ announcement Monday that point guard Kemba Walker had surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus.
It sounded ominous, considering this was Walker’s second procedure on the same joint in the space of 16 months.
So I reached a source to ask for context, and what I heard should ease some fans’ minds: This was more elective than urgent, something Walker advocated. Hopefully it will help ease the wear and tear on a knee that has been sore to one extent or another since Walker was in high school in the Bronx.
Walker has said the knee would occasionally flare up while he played college ball at Connecticut or during his first three NBA seasons in Charlotte, but never enough to make him miss significant time. There was a cyst in the joint that added to the condition.
Finally, in January of 2015, the pain grew bad enough that Walker missed three of five games. He got a second opinion from a specialist in New York that led to surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgeries. Walker sat out the next six weeks, which contributed greatly to the demise of that team’s playoff chances.
Walker came back to have his best of five NBA seasons, averaging 20.9 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds. He improved his 3-point shooting from 30 percent in 2014-15 to 37 percent in his just-completed season. He so impressed that Walker was runner-up for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
To sum all that up, Walker played remarkably well for a guy with a bad knee. He scored 37 points at home in Game 6 of the Heat-Hornets playoff series, but it wasn’t enough to hold off Miami in a 97-90 loss.
The Hornets were pummeled in Game 7, 106-73, and Walker had one of his worst games of the season, shooting 3-of-16. I asked Walker afterward if he was exhausted, if he just had no energy left after Game 6.
He agreed he didn’t have his normal energy but immediately said that’s no excuse, that the Heat was the better team.
Fair enough. But now I wonder if his body broke down, at least temporarily. So if Walker heeded a suggestion he have a maintenance procedure, all the better.
Walker has been terrific with this franchise, and that’s why he has a contract that will pay him $12 million each of the next three seasons. He’s touching on that star level for reasons both internal and external.
His success this season was a product of all the work he put in last summer. It was also a function of the help Hornets general manager Rich Cho got him by trading for Nic Batum and signing free agent Jeremy Lin.
Batum and Lin both want to be back, and no doubt Walker is lobbying for their return in free agency. In the meantime, Walker’s best course is to be as devoted a patient this summer as he was a worker last summer.
He’s made his point about talent and drive. Now he’s got to get well. Because you’re no longer Kemba Walker if you’re playing on one good knee.