Boston and Oklahoma City didn’t even wait until the draft to get things started.
Friday the two sides announced a trade that, at its core, sent Kemba Walker and his oversized salary to Oklahoma City for Al Horford and his slightly less oversized contract. There was more to it, of course; here’s who gets what in the trade.
Boston Celtics: Al Horford, Moses Brown, 2023 second-round pick
Oklahoma City: Kemba Walker, No. 16 pick in 2021 NBA Draft, 2025 second-round pick
Who are the winners and losers in the Walker/Horford trade? Let’s break it down.
Winner: Thunder GM Sam Presti
Presti is the master of getting first-round picks on both ends of a trade, and he has done it again (as he did with Chris Paul most recently). In case you forgot, Presti and OKC got Philadelphia’s 2025 first-round pick (top-six protected) plus Theo Maledon to take on Horford’s contract in a trade that sent the Sixers Danny Green.
Now the Thunder pick up their third first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to send out Horford, and they bring in Kemba Walker — a guy the Thunder will try to rehab just like CP3, then flip Walker out again (likely in a year, he’s going to be tough to move in the short term). This, folks, is how you do a rebuild right.
Winner: Boston Celtics… maybe
In his first move as the Big Kahuna for Boston, Brad Stevens moved Walker’s anchor of a contract, saving $9 million this season (yes, the one that just ended for Boston), but more importantly, Horford saves them $11.2 next season and just $14.5 million of his $26.5 million is guaranteed in 2022-23. Stevens freed up money by getting rid of a player in Walker whose knee issues had Boston convinced he would not be there for them in a deep playoff run.
The “maybe” comes with the question: What will Stevens and the Celtics do with that money? Waste the opportunity and this could flip Boston into the loser category quickly. The most likely outcome is to re-sign Evan Fournier, then use the mid-level exception to bring in another player for next season.
Whether via trade or the mid-level the Celtics may want to look into a floor-general kind of point guard. Right now, the rotation at the one would be Marcus Smart starting with Payton Pritchard behind him. Not terrible, but a player who could help Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with a little shot creation and organizing of the offense would be welcome.
Loser: Danny Ainge
He’s already out the door in Boston, but Ainge is the guy who let Horford walk to Philadelphia, then used that freed up cap space to get Walker back in 2019. Brad Stevens’ first move in Ainge’s chair was to essentially reverse that move. Ouch.
Not that Ainge cares as he sits back and surveys where he will work next (as a consultant or running a front office), maybe in Portland or Utah.
Winner: Al Horford
Horford watched the second half of this season from home because Oklahoma City
was in the middle of a massive tank job wanted to play their younger players, and now he jumps to a team that should be in the mix in the top of the East. Horford can help the Celtics in a limited role, and now he’s in a much better space.
Limited role as a center, we should add. People suggesting the Celtics play Horford at the four forget when Philadelphia tried to do just that, with Horford next to Joel Embiid. Calling that a dumpster fire is an insult to dumpster fires. Horford needs to play the backup five.
Which is why the next Celtics head coach may have a headache — Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams III, Horford, Brown (who played well at the end of the season for Oklahoma City), Luke Kornet, and Tacko Fall all play center. Jabari Parker is really a five, too, but you can at least argue he should play the four. That’s a lot of big men to fit into the rotation. (Stevens may make another move here, but centers don’t bring much back in trades in today’s NBA.)
Loser, but with a chance at rehabilitation: Kemba Walker
When Boston got Walker in a sign-and-trade in 2019, it was not a bad contract so much as a bet — if Walker could stay healthy and in All-Star form, he was a great fit to go with Tatum and Brown and lead the Celtics deep into the postseason. Boston (and Ainge) bet big on Walker.
That bet didn’t pay off.
Walker goes in the loser category because his stock has fallen far enough that the Celtics had to throw in a decent first-round pick to get someone to take his deal on. That’s not a good sign.
But Chris Paul’s stock had fallen when he ended up in Oklahoma City; he rehabbed himself and his game, and look at him now. Horford also got some rehab in OKC.
The Thunder will look to trade Walker again, although it is likely next offseason before that gets done. A good season with the Thunder alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would change the dynamic.