BOSTON -- Kemba Walker is all smiles right now. So is Danny Ainge, and Brad Stevens, and Wyc Grousbeck and … pretty much everyone associated with the Boston Celtics right now.
But if you hit the rewind button to a couple years ago, there was a similar vibe of optimism surrounding the program as we all sat and watched Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward trotted out before the media in what many thought would be the perfect marriage.
No need to dwell on Hayward’s injury anymore than we have, or Irving’s decision to leave Boston for Brooklyn this summer.
For a myriad of reasons, things didn't work out.
And while the positive, upbeat vibe we have now is very similar, there’s a strong sense that this Walker-to-Boston marriage has a better shot at a Happily Ever After ending.
That’s because Walker, more than anything else, is wired very differently than Irving.
While he led UConn to a national title as a senior in 2011, Walker didn’t come into the NBA with nearly as much fanfare or expectations as Irving, who was the top overall pick in the 2011 draft — eight spots ahead of Walker after having played just 11 games at Duke.
And it is that perpetual chip on his shoulder that never goes away, constantly drives Walker to prove his naysayers wrong and for the Celtics, provides them the kind of leadership that at this point in time their talented but fragile roster desperately needs.
I asked Walker during his introductory press conference on Wednesday to describe his brand of leadership.
While initially indicating that it all depends on the situation, Walker soon added, “I’m not a rah-rah kind of guy. If I have something to say, I’m gonna say it. I feel like if I’m doing something, if I’m working hard,I feel like that’s how guys have to be. Chemistry is important. A team has to be together. That’s one thing throughout my career, I try to do team activities, small things like that.”
And it is the small things that Walker knows all too well add up to success, the kind of success that has eluded him for most of his NBA career.
Of the 14 lottery picks from Walker’s 2011 draft class, he is one of nine that have been in the NBA for each of the past eight seasons.
But only one of those nine has yet to ever make it out of the first round of the playoffs — that would be Walker.
So for Walker, coming to Boston is about more than just playing for a team where he’ll be the face of the franchise for years to come.
It’s about exorcising some basketball demons that have haunted him for most of his professional basketball career.
That’s why as much as the Celtics need Walker to be that difference-making, high-impact scorer we saw named to the All-NBA Third team last season, he needs the Celtics just as much to finally get over that playoff hump that more than anything else, has kept him on the outside looking in on those conversations that center around the best guards in the NBA.
Because talent-wise, Walker is right up there with the best of them.
But the wins haven’t been there, something he seems poised to change now that he’s a Celtic.
For someone who has suffered as many losses as he has through the years, this change of scenery to Boston from Charlotte may be exactly what Walker needs to keep on smiling.
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