BOSTON -- Celtics Nation right now is cautiously optimistic/giddy/excited about knowing Danny Ainge and the Celtics are on the cusp of adding Kemba Walker to a lineup that will dramatically be altered when Kyrie Irving and Al Horford make their departures official in the coming days.
But like any transaction in the NBA, there are definite gains and losses to be incurred with signing Walker.
Here’s a look at the pros and cons of adding the three-time All-Star to the Celtics lineup.
You don’t have to worry about Kemba Walker coming in and having to prove himself to the Celtics.
For starters, he has more all-star nods (3) than the rest of the team combined.
And part of his all-star credentials includes him torching the Celtics pretty much every time he stepped on the floor, home or on the road. In four games against Boston last season, Walker averaged an eye-popping 30.3 points per game.
To put that in perspective, there were only three other teams (Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Washington) that Walker averaged 30 or more points against while facing them four times last season.
There’s a lot of talk about Walker’s 6-foot-1 frame, but that has never kept him from suiting up. In the last four seasons, Walker has missed a total of just six games.
And it’s not like he doesn’t play big minutes, either.
In fact, he leads all players from the 2011 draft class in minutes per game (34.1).
That durability coupled with lots of playing time naturally has resulted in him playing a ton of minutes thus far in his career.
Walker has logged 20,607 minutes since coming into the league, more playing time than anyone from his 2011 draft class which includes Kyrie Irving who has played 17,169 minutes. The only other player besides Walker to play at least 20,000 minutes from the 2011 class is Klay Thompson (20,340).
To have a playmaker whose track record has been one of good health, durability and productivity only enhances the reasons Boston made adding Walker a top priority.
Wants to Be a Celtic
It’s becoming increasingly more obvious that the Charlotte Hornets had no intentions of paying Kemba Walker the $221.3 million super max contract he is eligible to receive. But it’s not a given that Walker would have accepted the offer if it were made.
As much as the Celtics made their intentions known about wanting him, Walker isn’t coming here because he didn’t have any options. He’s coming to Boston because he wants to be here; he is well aware of the tradition of the franchise, a franchise that he will now have an opportunity to play for very soon.
Adding talent is a major key to success in this league, obviously. But adding talent that chooses to come here as opposed to being drafted or traded to Boston, is a dynamic that takes on great significance at this point in the Celtics’ evolution as a franchise.
There’s a certain level of disdain that Celtics fans seemingly have for anyone not donning a Celtics jersey. But you never really seemed to get the feeling that Kemba Walker fell into that category.
Part of that certainly has to do with him having led UConn to a national title as a senior by beating Brad Stevens’ Butler team in the 2011 national championship.
But part of Walker’s appeal to fans is that little-guy-with-big-talent dynamic, too.
We saw how fans embraced 5-9 Isaiah Thomas, both during his time as a Celtic and still to this day.
Walker will get similar love from the Green Team faithful, which only makes for a more enjoyable experience for him as well as the fans who didn’t end the last season with a lot of love for the Celtics.
Elite talent acquired at below-market cost
We know the Charlotte Hornets aren’t willing to pay the $221.3 million super max contract that Kemba Walker was eligible to earn, and that the most Boston can pay him is $141 million over four years.
Even with the Hornets offering him significantly less than that - around $160 or so million - it’s still more than he will earn with the Celtics or any other team he signs with in the coming days.
And that fits in well with the Celtics’ goal when it comes to free agent signings which is to acquire elite talent at a below-market cost, if possible.
Load management candidate
As we mentioned earlier, Kemba Walker has been among the more durable players in the league since being drafted in 2011. But at some point, those persistent bumps and bruises catch up to the best of them, with Walker being no exception.
He played through an assortment of nagging injuries last season, but the Celtics are likely to gradually phase in a load management program for the 29-year-old Walker.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll miss games, but there will be a plan in place to best ensure that he’s as fresh as possible health-wise, for the playoffs.
It’s no surprise that Walker’s defense will certainly be among the initial concerns for the Celtics. Like Kyrie Irving, Walker has been a high-scoring guard in the NBA with teams looking to limit or at least slow him down by being physical at both ends of the floor.
Walker came into the league and looked every bit like a shot-chucking, no-defense playing shooting guard trapped in the body of point guard. His defensive rating as a rookie was a woeful 106.7 with a net rating of -15.1. His defense wasn’t any better in his second season, coming in with a defensive rating of 108.2. But at least he was scoring more, which factored in his net rating being just -9.7.
From his third year on, Walker’s defense showed noticeable improvement in part because his offense got better which resulted in a positive net rating in four of his last six seasons and a defensive rating that was better in those six seasons, than it was in his first two.
While he is better, Walker cannot be counted upon to make a significant impact on the defensive side of the floor.
The issue isn’t whether Walker will be a good leader for this team or an improvement upon his predecessor Kyrie Irving.
More to the point, his arrival brings about a certain element of uncertainty as to who will emerge as this team’s leader?
Will it be Walker who would come in and immediately become the team’s best player?
Or will it be Jayson Tatum who many believe will emerge as the best player on this team?
Maybe it’s Gordon Hayward, the only player besides Walker to have ever been an all-star?
Don’t forget about Jaylen Brown who was the most outspoken player to push back at times on the narrative that the team’s issues at times last season, were the fault of the younger guys whereas Brown felt it was more of a team collective issue rather than a set of individuals.
It’s a good challenge to have for this team, because most of the guys mentioned will learn from the problems experienced last season which should make them better leaders and teammates going forward.
How Walker would fit into that equation, remains to be seen.
While in Charlotte, there was never a season in which Walker and the Hornets were expected to do anything more than just make the playoffs.
That’s not how it is in Boston, a team that sets its sights on the Larry O’Brien trophy every season.
Playing with that level of expectations after having been in the league eight seasons in a pressure-free environment like Charlotte, there’s no telling how Walker will handle dealing with a media and fan base that expects so much more from him and his teammates than what he’s accustomed to.
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