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Kemba Walker: Hornets ‘definitely my first priority’ in free agency

Portland Trail Blazers v Charlotte Hornets

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 03: Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets reacts after a play against the Portland Trail Blazers during their game at Spectrum Center on March 03, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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Kemba Walker has gone to the playoffs just twice and never won a series in eight seasons with the Hornets. He was reportedly “really deflated” Charlotte didn’t trade for Marc Gasol this year, to the point a rumor emerged Walker was likely to leave in free agency this summer. The Hornets have never gotten him an All-Star teammate. Despite a late push, they again missed the postseason this year.

But perhaps Walker’s All-NBA selection – which makes him eligible for a super-max contract projected to be worth $221 million (up from $190 million) over five years – could save the relationship.

Walker, via Jared Weiss of The Athletic:

“I just cried. Tears came straight from my eyes,” Walker, who landed third-team All-NBA, told The Athletic over lunch at the Coast 2 Coast basketball café in Tokyo’s iconic Harajuku shopping district. “I was a little kid from the Bronx, so it’s just crazy to me. I still can’t believe it. I just didn’t know if I would get it, because we didn’t make the playoffs. It goes like that sometimes.”
“Oh no question, Charlotte’s definitely my first priority,” he said. “That’s where I’ve been for eight years and that’s all I know. Not many people get a chance to play for one NBA team throughout their career. When I go on my Instagram, I see, ‘Kemba leave! Kemba get out of Charlotte!’ People don’t understand, when they say you need to go ‘here’ and win, that winning is not guaranteed anywhere.”

The big question: Will the Hornets offer the full super-max?

That’s a lot for the small 29-year-old point guard who had never made an All-NBA team before. Walker is a good player. He’s probably not worth that much based solely on his play.

Unless Hornets owner Michael Jordan is suddenly willing to pay the luxury tax, paying Walker the super-max would mean depleting the rest of the roster. Charlotte could try to dump helpful, but overpaid, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and/or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It’d probably require sweeteners to trade those players or Bismack Biyombo, and stretching anyone would incur long-term cap hits.

In other words, if they sign Walker to the super-max, expect the Hornets to immediately worsen his supporting cast and inhibit their long-term position.

I hope Walker knows what he’s getting into.

But I also hope he chooses to re-sign. Of course, players should sign wherever they want based on whatever criteria they deem important. But I’d like that there’s someone content getting paid and making the best of his situation. Not every star has to chase rings or move to big markets.

Walker has endeared himself to Charlotte through his production, positivity and loyalty. He might already be the greatest player in Hornets history, and if he stays another five years, he certainly will be.

If Walker re-signs, he’ll probably never win a championship. Heck, even making the playoffs will be an uphill battle.

But there are plenty of other ways to define success. It seems Walker could choose to prioritize leaving an even bigger imprint on Charlotte and making that super-max money. That sounds like a success story to me.