Three points on Kemba Walker’s free agency
The Charlotte Hornets haven’t done their fans any favors by managing to mismanage this Kemba Walker situation so completely.
But they did do Walker a favor.
It had to be easier for Walker to walk out of Charlotte and get on a plane to Boston knowing that the Hornets didn’t do all they could to keep him. When you’ve got one hand on the door already — and Walker likely did, because he wants to win and the Hornets don’t do that — it makes it a lot easier to turn the knob when the folks trying to keep you lowball you on a contract.
Yes, in the NBA’s weird world of finance, the Hornets’ reported offer of around $160 million over five years to Walker actually counts as a lowball. I won’t deem the contract insulting, because it sounds ridiculous to say an average salary of $32 million a year is an insult. But by NBA rules, the Hornets could have gone more than $50 million higher overall, to $221 million.
Instead the Celtics swooped in, offered Walker a higher average per year ($141 million over four years, which works out to $35.25 million per season) and got him. Now Walker actually will get to play on a team that will make the playoffs and perhaps contend for the Eastern Conference next season, just like he has always wanted.
As for Hornets owner Michael Jordan and general manager Mitch Kupchak — they’ve got some serious explaining to do. If you knew all along that you weren’t paying the NBA luxury tax, and that signing Walker to a max or supermax deal would get you into luxury-tax territory, then why didn’t you deal the franchise’s leading all-time scorer and three-time NBA all-star a year ago? That’s when he still had substantial value on the trade market.
Yes, I know the Hornets are techically going to be part of a sign-and-trade for Walker, which in return is bringing them the Celtics’ backup point guard from last season — Terry Rozier. And they are giving Rozier the amazing sum of $58 million over three years, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic — this for a player who has started only 30 total games over the course of his four years and has never shot 40 percent from the field in an NBA season.
Shaking my head
The Hornets are a team that just doesn’t make sense. It is a team that makes a lot of moves that get an “smh” or three when Charlotte fans text each other, because so many people wearing teal continue to shake their heads in disappointment. It’s “What in the world are the Hornets doing?” time — again.
If you are letting your best player go, why are you immediately spending almost $20 million guaranteed per season on another point guard who obviously is nowhere near as good as Walker? Why not just go with the relatively inexpensive kids?
Start Devonte’ Graham at point, pick up another couple of cheap options at the position and embrace losing. Take the medicine. Go 22-60 this season while hoping to get lucky in the 2020 NBA draft and also figuring out which of your youngsters are worth keeping.
But before we talk about what’s next for what is shaping up to be a nasty Hornets season in 2019-20, let’s salute Walker one more time. Can we all agree that nobody should burn a Walker jersey? He dazzled everyone for eight years. He did something three to four times every night that made you gasp. And he was a model citizen off the court.
And yet Walker never won a single playoff series in Charlotte, and his Hornets never made the playoffs at all for the past three seasons. The Hornets never surrounded him with enough talent.
So many bad contracts
As I have written previously, I also don’t think the Hornets should have given Walker a supermax contract ($221 million over five years) because that would have pretty much guaranteed the team would still be in a talent deficit for those five years. But Walker deserved a better offer than the one he got — maybe around $190 million over five years. And even with that, he very possibly would have left, because he’s seen this organization up close for eight years and he knows all the holes.
The team is hamstrung by hideous drafting and star-level contracts that, under Jordan’s stewardship, have been handed out like candy to one role player after another. Rozier’s deal will likely be the next answer in the “Name all the contracts the Hornets wish they hadn’t done within 18 months after they did them.”
The Hornets’ insistence on not paying the luxury tax for a mediocre — or worse — team is actually understandable. What isn’t understandable is how poorly they spend the money they do have. I know every NBA team is laden with a bad contract or two, but the Hornets have elevated this concept to an art form.
In April, Kupchak called Walker a “once-in-a-generation kind of player.” Less than three months later, Walker is gone and the Hornets have gone from bad to worse.
What has happened in the past few days makes no sense until you realize you’re in Hornets World.
It’s “smh” time. Again.