WITH a Detroit Pistons win last night, Kemba Walker and the rest of his Hornets teammates were once again left on the outside of the playoff bubble looking in. It marks the sixth time in eight seasons with Charlotte that Kemba will miss postseason action and as he enters unrestricted free agency, some wonder if we just witnessed Walker play in a Hornets uniform for the last time.
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KEMBA’S regular-season finale epitomized his excellent individual play this year, while also summing up Charlotte’s season in a nutshell. He poured in 43 points against Orlando, but it wasn’t enough for his team to win the game as they fell 122-114. In fact, high scoring games from Kemba and Hornets L’s went hand-in-hand this season. He scored 40 or more points on multiple occasions and came away with a 1-6 record in those games, including in his new career-high 60 point outing, a 122-119 OT loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
WITH the help of some of those high scoring games, Kemba Walker put forth his best season scoring the ball, finishing third (2102) in the entire league in total points behind Paul George (2159) and James Harden (2818). He was awarded an All-Star berth for the third consecutive year and was voted in as a starter for the first time in his career as well. Amidst all the personal accolades though, Charlotte couldn’t strengthen their hold on a playoff spot.
APRIL was their only month in which they posted a winning record; a 4-2 mark from just six games. It’s no real surprise to see the Hornets come close but fall short, they haven’t exactly surrounded Walker with All-Star sidekicks. Sure Jeremy Lamb and Cody Zeller are nice role players, but they were being relied upon too heavily. It’s been a disappointing theme through Walker’s tenure with Charlotte as the team failed to provide him with a supporting cast he needed to succeed at a high level. As a result, Kemba Walker now enters free agency surrounded by uncertainty.
HAVING never been a free agent in his NBA career to date, Walker has stated recently that he’s “going to wait and see” what happens regarding his future, heading into the summer with an open mind. He’s the franchises virtual heartbeat and seeing him leave would be emotionally devastating for the fans, but can you blame him? Over his time the team has won just 41.1% of their games in eight years and appeared in just 11 playoff games. You can only take so many losses until you start to wonder if the grass really is greener on the other side.
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THE only advantage that the Hornets have up their sleeve is they can offer Walker more money than any other team. A five-year, $190 million dollar deal could be heading his way, with a potential increase to $221 million if Kemba makes an All-NBA team, qualifying for the “super-max” extension. A lot of people will like to theorise that Walker’s decision won’t come down to dollar amounts. Let me just remind you his old deal paid him an annual salary of $12 million ranking him 100th in the league, tied with the likes of Solomon Hill, John Henson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
WHILE the financial gain of staying put is tempting, it’s not like Kemba is going to struggle if he opts out of Charlotte. The most an outside squad can offer him is $140 million over a four-year window, hardly a dramatic fall off. The Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have all been rumoured to covet the dynamic playmaking guard this offseason and don’t rule out all three potentially coming knocking on July 1st.
THE opportunities elsewhere are bound to be on Kemba’s mind and he faces a legacy-altering decision. It seems like the Hornets will come to the table with whatever number he wants as free agency opens, even if it might not be the smartest long-term decision for the club. There’s no way I can see them letting Walker leave though, he IS the Charlotte Hornets team right now. If he leaves, it’ll be his decision. The past front office regime might have cost them a chance at retaining, likely, the greatest player in the history of the franchise and his answer could alter the balance of power in the league.
HE might head home to New York and team up with Kevin Durant and/or one of the top picks in this year’s draft. Instead, LeBron might gain Kemba as his sidekick and reach great heights together, much like Bron did when he had another crafty, scoring guard as his Robin. Or, Walker could turn his back on all suitors and remain a Hornet for life, entrenching himself as one of the most beloved one-team players to play the game. There’s no easy decision here and there’s some long, hard thinking coming up for Kemba.
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