Some quick-hit thoughts as we digest news that the Boston Celtics have traded Kemba Walker, the No. 16 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, and a future second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford and Moses Brown:
NBA Twitter reacts to stunning Kemba-Horford trade
- Brad Stevens made a big splash with his first move as president of basketball operations. The Walker-to-Thunder possibility was a much-discussed route given the dual motivations (Boston trying to get off Walker’s money; the Thunder’s thirst for draft picks). But Stevens didn’t even wait for the summer to explore other possibilities, swallowed hard on the 16th pick, and made a move that gives the team considerable financial flexibility moving forward.
- Boston will save $9 million in salary between the contracts of Walker and Horford next season, easing tax concerns and opening a pathway to be a bit more aggressive in adding talent around this core. That would include the ability to be even more aggressive in re-signing unrestricted free agent Evan Fournier, Boston’s big-splash addition at the trade deadline.
- Horford’s 2022-23 salary is only partially guaranteed at $14.5 million. This gives Boston multiple pathways to adding a new third star alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Boston can more easily move Horford’s deal this season given the partial guarantee next season, or the team potentially could stretch the final year of that deal and eat a manageable cap hit moving forward if it desires space next summer.
- Boston also pulls back Moses Brown, who had a monster game against the Celtics this season, going for 21 points and 23 rebounds in late March. That helped Brown earn a multi-year contract with the Thunder. The 7-foot-2 big man slots as a third or fourth center. He’s only 21 years old and is essentially your draft pick this year if the team is willing to nurture his development.
- Thus ends an unfulfilling two-year stint in Boston for Walker, who was an ideal teammate but battled knee issues for nearly the entire duration of his stay. The Celtics exercised extreme caution with Walker this season but he developed a bruise on the same balky knee and missed the end of Boston’s playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets.
- Ultimately, signing Walker was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction after watching Kyrie Irving and, ironically, Al Horford depart after a tumultuous 2019 season. When Walker started experiencing knee issues in January 2020, Tatum surged from All-Star to All-NBA, and Jaylen Brown started his own All-Star ascension soon after in the bubble. With the Jays needing the ball in their hands more, a high-usage, pick-and-roll heavy point guard was no longer an ideal fit for the Celtics. Walker’s lack of size complicated matters as well, though he tried hard to compensate on the defensive end. Ultimately, a move was needed and the Celtics moved quick to try to maximize the benefits.
- This deal is not without risk. If Walker, in a more normally paced season, is able to get back to the sort of player he was in Charlotte (or even early in his Boston tenure), then he can be a valuable trade asset that might be able to fetch the Thunder even more draft capital down the road.
- Boston couldn’t wait with the clock ticking on the Brown/Tatum era and made a move that tried to minimize pain points. It was hard to find an intriguing Walker trade outside of the OKC possibility and there was no guarantee anything would materialize this summer.
- We’ll see what Horford has left in the tank. He should be well-rested after sitting out the end of the 2020-21 season so that Oklahoma City could lean on its younger players including Brown. While it’s unfair to think Horford will go back to being any sort of Joel Embiid-stopper (he’ll have motivation against his old Philly friends), Horford’s passing in the high post can help the Celtics and he can be a positive player in a smaller role than his first go-around.
- Our big lingering question: Who is the point guard for this team? Are the Celtics willing to use some of their new resources to pay Marcus Smart his next contract? Is there another point guard out there that Boston could target that could best accentuate the talents of the Jays? This is only the first step in rehabbing a roster that will be built around the Tatum/Brown combo with the goal of maximizing their talents and helping them take another step in their own developments.