Kemba Walker is a free agent this summer.
All along Walker has talked about wanting to be a Hornet for life; however, the All-Star guard he has said making the playoffs and the moves of GM Mitch will factor into that (Charlotte is currently the eight seed in the East and fighting to hang on to that slot). He has shot down the idea of going home and becoming a Knick, but there will be other suitors from coast to coast, ones with better teams and better chances of chasing a ring than Charlotte. A lot of fans look at the situation from the outside and think Walker will walk because that’s what most stars do in that situation.
Walker is not like other stars. He may choose the comforts of a city he loves this summer, takes Charlotte’s payday and stay home. Listen to what he told Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report in a fantastic story about Walker’s connection to the city.
“I love it,” he said of Charlotte during a conversation the previous week before repeating himself for emphasis. “I love it. It’s perfect for me. The pace of the city is pretty slow, which I love. It’s not fast-paced like New York. … I’m able to just live pretty much a normal life. I’m able to go out and eat and not really be bothered. Go to the mall and walk around, not really be bothered. That’s what I like, personally. That’s the kind of life I like to live….
“That’s a lot of the reason why I wanted to be around [Charlotte],” Walker said. “I do want to be the first to accomplish a lot of the goals that have never been accomplished around here. Yeah, I do think about that. Just because I know a lot of things haven’t been accomplished here, and this is my eighth season here now. Just important because I want to help build that. I want to help build that. I want to help accomplish those goals and help get this organization far—as far as possible.”
Money matters. By NBA standards, Walker is seriously underpaid. Walker is currently the sixth highest player on the Hornets at $12 million — he’s a two-time All-Star likely to make it a third in a row this February, and he wants to be compensated like one of the better point guards in the league. Owner Michael Jordan will pay up to keep him.
However, the problem is those five guys ahead of him on the Charlotte payroll — none of them are a true No. 2 on a top team and are all under contract or have player options next season (most if not all will pick up those options). That leaves very little flexibility to improve the team. The Hornets are capped out, flirting with the luxury tax this season and likely in the same position a year from now. Making the kind of improvements to this team that would make it a threat to Milwaukee, Boston or any of the other elite teams in the East going forward is a long shot.
What will matter most to Walker this summer? We know other free agents are looking at the greener grass over the fence right now, plotting their next move.
Walker? He may be perfectly happy just where he is.