Kemba Walker’s time with the Boston Celtics is over. On Friday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Celtics will send Walker, the 16th overall pick in the 2021 draft, and a 2025 second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford, Moses Brown, and a 2023 second-round pick.
Trade speculation has swirled around Walker since the last offseason, when reportedly Boston was shopping him around on the trade market. He signed a four-year, $140 million max contract in 2019 after spending the first eight years of his career with the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets.
While in Boston, knee problems have limited him to 99 of 144 games over two seasons. Still, he averaged 19.9 points, 5.4 assists and 1.3 steals in 31.4 minutes per game while shooting 36.0 percent from three and 41.9 percent overall.
After a disappointing 36-36 record capped by a first-round playoff exit in 2020-21, the Celtics are expected to make some major changes under new president of basketball operations (and former head coach) Brad Stevens. Trading Walker — and getting out from under the final two years of his contract — is the first step.
Walker will join an Oklahoma City team coached by former UConn manager Mark Daigneault. The Thunder went 22-50 this past season, the second-worst record in the Western Conference.
This Woj bomb is a gut punch to the vast intersection of UConn/Boston fans. It’s not often a UConn legend gets to play so close to his alma mater. All of the well-publicized gripes about Kemba last year were fair; an albatross of a contract for a 6’0 guard on the wrong side of 30 with knee issues. But that’s ignoring the locker room presence and the on-court respect he commanded as a three-tier scorer.
The Celtics are Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and Kemba seemed destined to ease into the back 9 of his career as a third scorer, or even a sparkplug off the bench. And regarding his defensive “liabilities,” the NBA is littered with undersized guards who can’t defend, and a good coach is adept at hiding them or at least minimalizing their weaknesses. Plus, a full offseason to rehab a knee likely has Kemba playing at an All-Star level, the way he was at the end of 2021.
Kemba’s return to New England in 2019 was a breath of fresh air for Celtics fans who felt spurned after Kyrie Irving bolted town. His smile and positivity brought joy to the game that was much-needed during a pandemic; for some fans at least, watching Celtics games was fun again. The fit on and off the court seemed ideal, but his knees didn’t comply. When healthy, he played at an All-Star level and the Celtics were knocking at the door of the NBA Finals. But that balky left knee soon made his once-reasonable contract a red flag, and money makes the NBA go ‘round.
It wasn’t Walker’s performance that resulted in being shipped out in just two years, it was health. Whether he deserved one more shot with this team — until at least the trade deadline — is up for debate. As is the case with most undersized guards on their way out of Boston, Kemba will be missed more than fans think.