Winning the Kemba Walker sweepstakes is a serious coup for the Celtics, particularly considering recent circumstances, which had Boston teetering on the precipice of a soft reset. The Celtics appeared to be one of the league’s more tenuous situations a couple weeks ago, with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford setting their eyes elsewhere and the core of a 49-win team very much in flux. Even after a tumultuous season, Boston had hoped to bring everyone back and try again. Losing two of their best players, naturally, changed the calculus. But luring Walker, arguably the best point guard on the market, away from Charlotte and a range of suitors, can only be viewed as a victory for the Celtics, a much-needed parachute that not only extends, but may enhance their competitive window over the next few seasons.
Not only is Walker a more than sufficient replacement for Irving, but his presence should bring a much-needed level of stability to a locker room that continues to skew on the younger side. The 29-year-old point guard is coming off his best professional season, and the four-year, $141 million agreement locks him in as a Celtic for the remainder of his prime years. Walker has been one of the NBA’s more underrated guards while commanding a smaller spotlight in Charlotte, where he was remarkably consistent over the past four seasons. The Hornets struggled to field an especially competitive team around him, and have not made the playoffs since the 2015-16 season. Offering him the full supermax contract would have put Charlotte in a difficult spot financially, with little room to improve the team around him. Although the Hornets aren’t going anywhere fast, parting ways to reset may have been the best thing for both sides.
In Boston, Walker will have additional help from the outset, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown coming into their own as pros and Gordon Hayward, if he can return to form, a potentially formidable option. The Celtics also now have holes to address up front, barring a surprise return from Horford. Actually keeping him would involve sign-and-trade scenarios with Irving and Terry Rozier, allowing Boston to sign Walker into space while keeping Horford’s Bird rights and cap hold on the books. Otherwise, the Celtics have to renounce their rights to restricted free agent Rozier, removing his cap hold to bring in Walker. Irrespective of Horford, a sign-and-trade with Rozier could still be a possibility, and given that Boston can’t officially sign Walker until July 6, they’ll have time to work those options out.
Walker’s max contract will start at around $32.7 million for next season. There’s inherent risk in handing out that type of money to any player approaching 30, but for the Celtics, remaining relevant in the Eastern Conference was imperative. Walker’s consistency and rock-solid leadership should be a welcome change. And noting the abundance of cap space around the league, investing their money in one of the legitimate, coveted franchise-changing players on the market—as opposed to piecing together smaller deals—is close to a best-case scenario for Boston. The Celtics likely aren’t done shuffling the deck. And it’s possible Walker ends up being a legitimate upgrade, all things considered.