Report: Kemba Walker surrendered $20M in Thunder buyout

Kemba Walker in Boston Celtics v New York Knicks
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Most money relinquished in a buyout in NBA history, per Bobby Marks of ESPN:

1. Bison Dele (Pistons in 1999): $31.7 million

2. Larry Sanders (Bucks in 2015): $21.9 million

3. Derek Fisher (Jazz in 2007): $20.6 million

4. Shawn Kemp (Trail Blazers in 2002): $18.7 million

5. Deron Williams (Nets in 2015): $16 million

Kemba Walker, who took a buyout from the Thunder to join the Knicks, is getting added the leaderboard.

Keith Smith of Spotrac:

This is nice business by Walker, who will recoup most of that money in New York. He’s reportedly signing a two-year contract paying about $8 million per year with the Knicks.

Walker never chose Oklahoma City, getting traded there by the Celtics in June. The 31-year-old clearly didn’t want to play for the rebuilding Thunder, who are prioritizing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at point guard and also have No. 6 pick Josh Giddey and Theo Maledon factoring at the position.

This is Walker’s modus operandi. He tried to accept less money on his 2014 contract extension with the Hornets until his agent ultimately got him a four-year, $48 million deal that still proved extremely favorable to Charlotte. In 2019, he said he’d accept less than the super-max to help the Hornets. (They offered way less, which is why he left for Boston.)

Now, the New York native joins a Knicks team he strongly considered in 2019.

For Oklahoma City, the savings are obviously huge. However, there are downsides. The Thunder now have $26,238,422 and $27,431,078 in dead salary the next two years. They can’t rehab Walker’s value and flip him for positive value, like they did with Chris Paul.

But the main point of acquiring Walker was getting a first-round pick from the Celtics (which Oklahoma City flipped to the Rockets on draft night for two future first-round picks). The Thunder also probably won’t be ready to spend big in free agency while Walker’s dead money occupies cap space. In the meantime, helping Walker get to a preferred destination reflects well on Oklahoma City.

Like with all buyouts, it made sense to both sides.