Thunder fans no longer have to worry about if or when Kemba Walker is going to get dealt.
As reported earlier today, in lieu of a blockbuster trade, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Walker instead agreed to a contract buyout, releasing him out of the rest of his $74 million on his contract and paving the way for the former Charlotte and Boston guard to sign for the New York Knicks.
Despite Walker’s sterling reputation around the league as a great locker room guy, it’s clear that either Walker or the Thunder (or perhaps both) had no intentions of making Walker OKC’s next great reclamation project.
Which makes sense. Walker is now 31-years-old and trying to shake off two injury riddled seasons in Boston. Playing half a season in Oklahoma City before getting shipped off elsewhere to attempt to get acclimated to a new squad in the midst of a playoff run isn’t a great scenario for anyone, and now Walker gets to have an entire season to build chemistry with his new teammates in New York.
The move opens up great possibilities in Oklahoma City as well.
Walker’s presence would have done two things this season which may be opposed to Sam Presti’s grand plans.
First, when healthy, he would occupy a role in the starting lineup and likely eat up upwards of 30 minutes of action every night. Walker’s mere presence on the roster would slow the growth of Theo Maledon, Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Ty Jerome and any other young guard looking for NBA minutes to grow.
Recommended for You
Agreeing to the buyout now clears a path for OKC’s No. 6-overall pick, Giddey, to slot into the starting lineup alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as well as Mann and Maledon to get plenty of run coming off the bench with the Thunder second unit. Make no mistake about it, the Thunder are still in the early stages of their rebuild, and allowing the youth to get out on the floor and take their lumps in low-pressure situations is vital for Oklahoma City in the upcoming season.
Walker would have helped stunt OKC’s growth in another way too.
With the injury troubles of the last two seasons, it's easy to forget that he’s a legitimately good NBA player when he’s on the floor, and in concert with Gilgeous-Alexander, the duo would have been a formidable backcourt.
A year ago, the Thunder were much better than anticipated when Gilgeous-Alexander and Al Horford were on the floor. OKC was 16-19 with Gilgeous-Alexander on the floor, much too good to stand a chance in the race to the bottom to try and secure the best lottery odds possible.
Gilgeous-Alexander may again take another step in 2021, but the Thunder will likely want another top end draft pick to help bolster the talent ceiling of their young core.
OKC isn’t going to stink forever, that goes against everything the franchise has tried to build over the past decade, but they will have to retool through the draft as free agency has always been cruel to the Thunder.
Having Walker in the fold makes that process that much harder, as the Thunder again would be too talented to hang around in the race for the No. 1-overall pick again.
So in the end, while Presti will no doubt be disappointed he was unable to add to his haul of 18 first round draft picks over the next six years, the move to buyout Walker made sense on all sides.
The Thunder have plenty of cap room, it just makes sense to use a bit of it and let Walker walk now, setting the franchise up for much loftier goals two or three years down the line.