Don't be surprised if Kemba Walker's tenure in Boston ends with a buyout
Unlike many Boston fans and the media, I actually like Kemba Walker. I believe the Celtics might not have done the proper due diligence on his knee before signing him to a max contact in the summer of 2019, but that's not Kemba's fault. If Kemba didn't agree to sign in Boston for max dollars, he could have found that exact same max contract with a few other teams. And who reading this has ever been offered $18 an hour for a job and responded, "No thank you. I'm only worth $8 per hour. Just give me that."
Boston has turned on Kemba because of his contract and knee. He's a great character player and if you swap 2017 Kemba on the Celtics in place of Isaiah I'm not saying he would have been as great, but Celtics fans would have loved him. Undersized guards are best in their 20's before the grind and age break them down. They are also best as the #1 option on offense. Again that's the Isaiah we were lucky to watch in Boston. IT got to be the 1st and 2nd options on those teams if you really want to analyze it fairly.
The 2nd best option is for a guy like Kemba to be the 2nd option. That player won't put up max contract worthy numbers, but he's still a very good player. The last couple months of the season, Kemba Walker was a very good player for the Celtics, especially when Jaylen went down. Walker has sacrificed on this roster and been the 3rd option. He simply had to with dynamic scoring wings like Jaylen and Jayson. Neither of those two wings are ready to be primamry playmakers, so that's another reason Kemba had to let them be the two main scorers.
The injury in the playoffs sucked, but listen, it had nothing to do with the Celtics resting him on the second half of back-to-back games during the regular season. Every team does that when their All-Stars are coming back from surgery. Did you see how many games the Nets sat Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out this regular season? Kemba wanted to play back-to-backs, but the Celtics made that decision. And it was just bad luck that he got a different knee injury on the playoffs.
The Celtics say the playoffs injury had nothing to do with the previous one, so unless you think they are lying (which would be extremely moronic since they already have a rep of trying to trade injured guys and not being honest about the extent of their injuries), Kemba and the Celtics just had some very bad luck. They aren't the only team to have bad luck with playoff injuries. Shoot, Kemba isn't even the lone Celtics. I love Time Lord, but his whole career has been marred by injuries. At least Walker had an ironman track record before signing with Boston (So did Gordon Hayward for that matter).
So moving forward if Kemba is on the Celtics roster for the 2021-22 season expect him to play both ends of back-to-backs. That has always been the Celtics plan. And again it's not unique to them. They are just copying all the other teams with how they manage these things. One year with no back-to-backs and then go back to normal. That's why you see guys who previously sat out half of back-toback games like Chris Paul play both ends this year.
As a second option, Kemba is likely worth about $25 million a year on a long term deal. As a third option, he's worth considerbly less. So fact is the Celtics overpaid him in 2019, since he would really only be worth that contract if he was a 1st option. Sometimes there is a benefit to slightly overpaying a very good free agent, since there is no additional cost with assets traded for them. This is why even though both the Hornets and Pacers wanted Gordon Hayward, Charlotte could rationalize adding an extra $5 million per year. The Pacers already had the added cost of giving up Myles Turner, doug McDermott, and a 1st rounder. If they could have signed him outright, he would have been a Pacer.
So once you realize that a portion of Walker's contract is simply the price you pay to add an all-star for free (meaning without trading assets like Los Angeles had to do to get Anthony Davis for example. Or Boston to get KG for another) you can understand that was a sunk cost.
Moving forward, Kemba Walker could help many NBA teams. Honestly on a winning team, I really think he's best used as a Manu Ginobili, Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, Vinne Johnson type off the bench. Again before you go crazy, yes i know you don't pay that 6th man north of $30 million a year. But what's done is done.
If Kemba made $18 million a year in more of an Evan Fournier role, I think Celtics fans would love him. The knee situation sucks, but it's the contract that everyone holds over his head. I'm dismissing the uninformed fans that dismiss Kemba as "soft." If it was up to Walker he'd play every single game, injured or not. The Celtics have said that Kemba's ability to play in pain is his biggest downfall. They never really know how hurt he is. Kemba is a gamer. Pretty sure no one draws more charges in the NBA per game than Kemba. Also not something a "soft" player does.
The Celtics proved the national media wrong signing three All-Star free agents in recent years in Al Horford, Hayward, and Walker. The fact that two were people of color, also destroyed that faulty narrative. With that said, Ainge always looked out for the Celtics best interests. Ainge was foolish to trade that third Nets pick and Thomas for Kyrie. Not because it was wrong to trade Thomas, but because Iriving wasn't the player to give up a Nets pick on. It would have been ludicrous for Ainge to give Thomas a large conttact in his 30's, let alone a max one, once he broke down. But smart or not, trading Thomas left some other NBA players questioning Boston's loyalty.
The whole idea of loyalty in professional sports is a funny subject. Players leave for more money teams trade players for better ones. Both sides are really out for themselves. If a star ever was willing to sign for half as much if he got a no-trade clause in his contract, teams would do it in an instant. The salary cap and luxury tax make any overpaid player a person the team wants to trade.
Money wasted on one player means another player you can't retain or add. This is why Ainge tried to trade Kemba both last offseason and again this deadline. If Kemba was making $18 mil a year, the Celtics would be much less inclined to get rid of him.
Kemba has a right to be upset with the team that signed him shopping him a year later, but he also should understand the business to some extent. The reason I qualify it with "some extent" is that players don't achieve the success they did making the NBA and becoming an All-Star without having an extreme level of self confidence. You or I can see that Kemba can't be yoour main guy on a championship team, but Kemba's not going to admit that he's best served as a 6th man. It's the same reason Isaiah has for a solid year tweeted that if given the chance he could be the Thomas of his Celtics years. You have to have extreme confidence.
With the Celtics wanting to move Kemba and with him reportedly also pursuing a new home, how do both sides achieve a happy resolution? Kemba is owed $36 million this coming season and then has a $37.6 million player option for 2022-23. Your'e going to call me crazy when I say this, but that's fine, I'm still saying it. If Kemba Walker has a healthy 2021-22 season he will decline his player option for the final year of his Boston deal just like Hayward and Horford did before him. And every single Celtics blue check mark writer on Twitter laughed at the idea that either Hayward or Horford would decline their big money final years.
This is where sportswriters and fans get things wrong. Players are smarter than they get credit for. They all know they make silly money. By the time they are vets, they are looking for that next or last big contract, not a one year pay day. I said Chris Paul would decline his player option a couple months ago and Twitter fools said I was nuts. Now its been reported and its a given. Paul will be a free agent this summer (unless he suffers a career ending injury or something the rest of the playoffs of course).
Many players don't get a say in any of their teams offseason moves. But there is one thing they can control: Themselves.
As enticing as $37.6 million looks to a player, and in case that player is Kemab Walker, next summer at the age of 32, Walker can still snag one last big payday, and $100 million looks much better than $37.6. Again if he proves he can stay healthy, some team will offer Kemba a four year deal around $100 million. He's not risking the extra $62.4 million just to play ourt his contract in Boston or to get traded to who knows where. No he will do like Hayward and want to be in charge of his own destiny. He'll become a free agent and he will pick the location and best fit for him and his family.
When a star signs a 4 year deal with the last year being a player option, the plan for the player and his agent is for the contract to always just be a 3 year deal where you then sign another long term deal after that. Trust me, when Tatum gets to the final player option year on his new deal, he will choose to be a free agent either to re-sign for much more with Boston or to sign elsewhere. Player options are just security that their agents snag for them in case of injuries.
The Celtics need to worry about adding talent around Tatum and Brown. The idea that trading Walker this summer is a priority is ridiculous. By the team Tatum and Brown are next up for new deals, Walker will be long gone and off the books. The Jay's will be more concerned with does Boston have the winninng pieces around them at that time. Trading a first rounder to get rid of Walker, who will be off the books soon anyway, is some Gary Tanguay nonsense. Not sure he said it, but I kind of use him as a the poster boy for idiot Boston media personalities. The type of people who always to blow things up, fire everyone, trade your stars, blah blah, blah.
Even personalities like Kendrick Perkins has suggested trading multiple first rounders to dump Kemba. Do they have any idea how the Jay's, Time Lord, Pritchard, Romeo, and all the guys they like on the team became Celtics? If it was up to sports media personalities, Boston would have traded the picks that became Tatum and Brown, and would have zero first rounder until 2050 (Luckily for fans' sake they made a rule that prohibitted teams from trading 1sts in back-to-back years, but GM's managed to F that up with loopholes like picking a player for another team and then trading them or pick swaps).
Unless there is some star player who you can add to Jayson and Jaylen this offseason and you need to get Kemba off the books to make the numbers work, there is no reason to attach a first rounder in a trade with Walker. Any deal for an overpaid player with more years on the books makes zero sense either. Unless you expect Porzingis to return to his healthy Knicks form, Stevens would be a fool to swap Kemba for him. Other deals where you take back a couple bad contracts for Kemba's one also aren't enticing. Then you have two or three overpaid players you need to play so they don't become problems in the locker room. Not to mention you have to play them if you have any chance of moving them.
Not sure where people come up with these horrible ideas. Do we want to block playing time from guys like Romeo, Prichard, and Time Lord for some overpaid vet? Better off with just one overpaid guy who is actually still a good player. Saw a Thunder beat writer propose the Kemba for Horford trade that we did a "Would You?" on months ago, excpet he included the Celtics pick at #16 this season. Absolutely not. Make no sense for Boston.
The Celtics will try and trade Kemba this offseason and if there is a decent deal to be had, then sure go for it. A decent deal means not giving up first rounders, not taking on a Porzingis with an extra year, and trading Kemba's $36 million for two or three overpaid bums making a total of $36 million. Kemba doesn't have positive trade value, but if you wait til the deadline, he could. And if he does suffer though an injury riddled 2021-22 season, so picks up his player option, than he has value as a large expiring deal next offseason.
The Horford for Walker deal makes sense for both teams without a 1st rounder. Horford can actually help Boston this year as a plus passing, 3-point shooting, veteran big. Either him or Tristan would ride the pine if/when Robert Williams was healthy. Tristan could also be traded. As the #1 or #2 option in Oklahoma City, Walker would likely rebound into another bad contract Sam Presti traded for and then he flips for a pick.
But if a decent one for one swap like Walker for Horford doesn't pop up this offseason, there are other ways to end this Celtics marriage than making a poor trade or being "stuck" with an unhappy Walker. First off I will say I highly doubt an unhappy Walker would be a locker room issue. That's not him. That's one of the selling points he had over Kyrie. If the Celtics don't want to wait, they can approach Walker about a buy-out. Boston wouldn't have to give Walker the majority of his owed money in the buy-out like Blake Griffin got. Apples to oranges there. Pistons were a rebuilding team and Griffin looked like toast. Hadn't even dunked in a year. Kemba is a much better player than the 2020-21 version of Griffin.
The Celtics and Walker could come up with a mutually satisfying buy-out number as early as this offseason or at any point next season. If it's this offseason it would be a heftier number, because Walker would be forfeiting $73.6 million for his freedom. This is also complicated by the option year situation. Imagine Boston giving $30 million back, even though Walker was going to just walk next summer. Paying a very good player $30 million not to play for you is much worse than paying the same player $36 million to play for you. That's why you're not hearing buyout talks right now. Halfway through next season is more likely. Again think Blake's situation. Walker would make half his salary, pocket a nice severance check and then go play for a team he wanted to. Also would be able to sign that last big deal next summer.
Kemba says he plans to come into next season at 100% That he will be better than the past tewo seasons. Of course he says this. All players do. I'm sure he believes it and he potentially could be right. This confidence could also lead the Celtics to work out a buy-out sooner rather than later. Kemba would be betting on himself. The way the NBA works, he might not even have to. Pretty sure Horford had the Philly offer way before he had to trun down his last seaosn in Boston. And also very sure Hayward and his agents knew what was out there for him. Enough to make turning down Boston's last year worth it for sure.
If the Celtics, Kemba, and his agent reach a buyout, the latter two will already have a plan for his next team. That's just the way the NBA works. Griffin already knew the teams that would sign him. So did Drummond.
Personally I think any rift between the Celtics and Kemba can easily be repaired. For one thing the guy he would be upset with was Danny Ainge. And Ainge no longer works for the Celtics. Walker and Stevens relationship is fine. And one of the reasons I think Brad will do well in his new role is my guess he will have a very honest conversation with Walker. He will tell him it's all about the cap, luxury tax, repeater tax, being able to retain other players, add additional players. That if he hears his name in trade talks it's not because he's not wanted in Boston. It's simply because of his contract. I believe Walker will respond well to someone being straight forward.
And if Boston can't find a good deal for Walker I think you just have to accept the extra $15 or $20 mil he makes a year is a sunk cost to adding a player without surrendering assets and pretend Kemba makes like $18 million this year. If you can add a very good play making point guard, just have Kemba be the 6th man. Trust me, he'd be a better 6th man than anyone Boston could afford to sign in free agency.
I'm not a betting man, but if I was I would not expect Walker to finish out his contract in Boston. There are options. Don't be surprised if the one used in the end is a buyout.