Reporter Evan Massey is back at it again with an offseason trade rumor. Massey tweeted yesterday that the Timberwolves could trade D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns next offseason, and I wrote about what this could mean for the Celtics in an article for CelticsLife. Today he tweeted that a former NBA Executive believes Kemba Walker will be traded in the offseason, and that the Celtics almost pulled the trigger on a trade last offseason.
Regardless of Massey’s credibility, his source is a former, not current, NBA Executive, which makes me skeptical about this particular rumor. However, I fully recognize that the Celtics’ GM is “Trader” Danny Ainge, and I could totally see him shopping Walker, especially after a subpar year. Walker continues to work his way back from the knee injury that has plagued him for almost a year now, but he still isn’t playing on the second night of back-to-backs. Now 30 years old, Walker’s best days could be behind him, which isn’t great for a max-contract player playing on a should-be contender.
For what it’s worth, Walker hasn't been unplayable this year by any means, although he did have a rough first 10 games back. On the year, Walker is averaging 18 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game, on 40%-36%-93% shooting splits. His PPG and field goal percentage are the lowest they’ve been since the 2014-15 season, so the concerns that Walker has taken a step back are credible. At this point, the most the Celtics should expect from Walker is that he serves as a legitimate third option on offense behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The problem is that Walker can’t play every game during the regular season, and when he does suit up he misses shots fans watched him make just a season ago. Walker is only in the second year of a four-year, $140 million contract, so he’s signed for $36 million next season and has a $37.5 million player option for the 2022-23 season. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess if Walker picks up his player option, as he could either cash out for one year and make above his market value, or look to receive what likely would be the last long-term contract of his career.
I’ve written about this in the past, but what concerns me with trading Walker is how a trade will be perceived by other players in the league. Anthony Davis’ father spoke out against the Celtics before Davis was traded to the Lakers, and stated that he’d never want his son to play for a team that would trade Isaiah Thomas after all he played through while in Boston. While players are switching teams more often than ever around the league, it’s more often the players who are deciding that they want to leave, not their GMs. If there appears to be a lack of loyalty between Boston players and ownership, this could impact potential free agents’ willingness to sign in Boston.
Granted, the Celtics have lost a number of players to free agency in the past few years for absolutely nothing, so if Danny Ainge can find a deal for Walker that helps the Celtics in the long-term, he has to make the move. I recognize that Walker’s play has taken a step back in the past year, but at the same time, I love his playstyle and the leadership he brings to the locker room. There’s a long way to go until the NBA offseason and anything can happen, but time and time again we’re reminded that the NBA is a business, and GMs like Ainge will do whatever it takes to win.