In 2014, Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension. He’s earning just $12 million this season in the final year of that deal.
Meanwhile, many lesser players are earning far more, because they signed after new national-TV contracts skyrocketed the salary cap in 2016.
I asked Walker last season whether he regretted locking in for so long rather than signing a short extension that would’ve positioned him to receive the new-TV money sooner.
“At the time, I thought the deal I signed was great for the way I played,” Walker said. “I was still shooting 30 percent from the 3-point line and things like that. And I wasn’t really not mentioned when they mentioned a lot of top-tier point point guards.”
Now, Walker is averaging 27.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, shooting 38% on 3-pointers and ranks third in offensive real plus-minus.
But that humble attitude apparently apparently affected 2014 negotiations between his agent, Jeff Schwartz, and Charlotte – and how Walker sees himself now.
Schwartz wanted $12 million per season. Charlotte’s offer topped out at $10 million. As the Oct. 31 deadline approached, Walker pushed Schwartz to accept Charlotte’s offer. If Schwartz wouldn’t, Walker threatened to call the team and do it himself, according to both.
He might be more than an All-Star. He might be a superstar.
“I don’t think of myself that way,” he says. “It’s strange.”
I don’t think Walker is a superstar, though Lowe excellently details Walker’s rise in a story I recommend reading in full. Walker is still limited defensively due to his 6-foot-1 frame and heavy offensive burden. Plus, he hasn’t maintained this elevated level of play long enough.
But Walker might soon get paid like a superstar.
The Hornets are built around him and apparently intent on staying that course. Walker will enter unrestricted free agency next summer. His max contract projects to be worth about $190 million over five years – or, if he makes an All-NBA team this season, about $221 million over five years.
Will Walker push for that much? His max from another team projects to be about $141 million over four years. But the Hornets are so jammed if they lose Walker, he might not need outside leverage to get Charlotte’s max – if he has the stomach to drive a hard bargain. Not every player does.
Also keep in mind: Walker will be 29 when his next contract begins. That’s an age many small guards begin to decline. A five-year max – let alone super-max – deal could look quite ugly before it ends. If the Hornets give that much money to Walker and he declines over the contract, the quote about him not even viewing himself a superstar – even if said with a pleasing humbleness – could be haunting.