By Noah Monroe
Kemba Walker, a three-time All-Star who was a third-team All-NBA selection in 2019, averaged a career-high 25.6 points per game (PPG) this year and is the Hornets all-time points leader. Unfortunately, he is now a free agent, and the Hornets have to decide whether to spend a lot of money to re-sign him or let him go elsewhere.
The Hornets have not made it past the first round of the playoffs since the 2001-02 season and have put themselves in contract purgatory. However, Walker is by far the best player the Hornets have had since Glen Rice was on the team more than 20 years ago. Charlotte and its fans NEED the Hornets to do everything they possibly can to keep Walker for numerous reasons.
Here is a snapshot of the Hornets roster for next year:
(snapshot taken from http://www.basketball-reference.com)
No player who is under contract for the 2019-2020 season will be able to fill Walker’s shoes if he leaves. Tony Parker might’ve been able to fill the leadership role, but he retired on June 10. Also, no one on the roster can be the dynamic player that Walker is unless a player like Malik Monk or Miles Bridges can significantly improve from last year.
In this year’s draft, the Hornets picked P.J Washington, a power forward from Kentucky. Washington’s potential has been described as a player who can stick around with team and come off the bench and start a few games here and there. This pick followed the trend of how the team has drafted in recent years, Washington won’t make an immediate impact, he might not even make an impact within the coming years. Nevertheless, the team will continue to be abysmal for seasons to come, making fans continue to wait for the team to be average again, if they can even achieve that. Having Walker on the team next year will not only provide a mentor for the younger players but will also provide a spark to the Hornets in their games.
Some believe that “But Walker deserves better” or “the city of Charlotte doesn’t appreciate him.”
Walker has been stuck on a team that has only produced two winning seasons in his eight years with the team, and he deserves to play for a playoff contender. However, the city of Charlotte does appreciate Walker. They are part of the reason he’s been selected to three consecutive All-Star games. The fans have loaded the ballot box with Walker’s name, and they have filled the arena consistently even when the team is underperforming. Yes, they may not appreciate Walker at all times, but you have to remember these are the same fans who criticized Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton during his MVP-winning season in 2015. They just want Walker and the Hornets to be the best they can be.
Reports have linked Walker to the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers, two of the most prolific teams in the history of the NBA. However, the fan bases of these two teams are some of the most critical people in the history of sports. Notably, the fans of New York have failed to support players like Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis in recent years and have run them out of town. In Anthony’s case, wasted their prime years, which Walker is still very much in as evidenced by his career-high in PPG last year.
The Lakers have one of the greatest players in NBA history, LeBron James. Albeit that James has carried teams to NBA Championships, he has also ruined the point guards that have played around him, most notably Kyrie Irving. Does Walker really want to risk his career for the slim chance that the Lakers have at winning an NBA Championship?
Instead of going to a city like New York or Los Angeles, he could stay in Charlotte where he is adored by the fans and will be the focal point of a team with aspirations of the playoffs. Walker could play his whole career for one team, a feat that is rare in today’s NBA and most important of all, he will surely have his number retired by the team, which would be just the second number retired by the Hornets.
Walker has said on multiple occasions that Charlotte is the place he wants to play. A few weeks ago at a youth basketball camp, Walker was asked if he would take less money to stay with Hornets. “Yeah, why not? I would take less, for sure,” he said. Will the Hornets offer Walker the max contract, will they offer Walker a little less than the max to give themselves a little more cap space or will they move on from Walker and go in a new direction for the future? Only time will tell as free agency starts June 30.