A disappointing season mercifully ended and that means people are looking for who to blame. The Celtics immediately changed their leadership structure, which made a lot of people happy (or at least less angry). Still many fans have already shifted their attention to the roster and have logically landed on the guy with the biggest salary. All of this is perfectly natural and in many ways very predictable. I mean, I’m the one who stoked the flames by posting 3 articles about the potential of trading Kemba Walker in the last week. But at some point the narrative pendulum swings too far.
I’m starting to see more and more people talking about Kemba as if he’s a complete negative on this team. Maybe this is just the vocal minority being loud online, but allow me to be loud back (respectfully of course).
Kemba Walker is 16 months removed from his latest All Star appearance and he’s just 31 years old. Injuries took their toll on him and he’s lost some of his explosiveness. That’s a concern, no doubt. But it isn’t that hard to imagine a long offseason giving him time to recover and regain some of that burst back.
Even limited by injuries, he still averaged over 19 points per game this past season and just over 20 the prior year. That’s a far cry from the 25 per he averaged in his last season in Charlotte, but he’s in a completely different role on this team. He’s not going to complain about touches, he’s happy to let our young stars take the lead, and he’s perennially upbeat and positive regardless of the circumstances (which is a good thing people). In short, a great option as a 3rd star.
The Celtics as a team need more dynamic scorers. Removing Kemba from this roster would only exacerbate that problem further. It is certainly fair to take a long look at how to deploy him in rotations. Maybe giving him more minutes with the 2nd unit would make more sense, so he can get a better groove without taking shots away from Tatum and Brown.
Walker can still cook in the pick and roll and he had a lot of fun tossing up lobs to Robert Williams III. He shoots that float-forward 3 pointer off the dribble that gives him space despite his lack of size. He can get into the paint and collapse the defense for kick-outs.
Think of it this way, if you completely remove the payroll from the equation and I told you we could have a dynamic, scoring, former All Star for the next two years, that would be a good thing, right?
Now imagine if the owners slap down a blank check and tell Brad Stevens to build the roster the best he can regardless of tax. Are there really guys out there that the Celtics can go get that would be an upgrade from Kemba? Most of the trade ideas out there are either for cap purposes or breaking his salary into smaller pieces that don’t exactly add up to much production on the court.
I get it though. Reality bites. There’s probably a limit to what the owners are willing to spend. Taking a step back by offloading his contract might make more sense for the future. But keep in mind that offloading now might be selling at his lowest perceived value.
There’s a scenario where he could come back looking strong next season, which would be both beneficial on the court and in terms of his trade value. And the worst case is that he continues to struggle with injuries and after next season his contract becomes an expiring deal that is a lot easier to trade or use as matching salary in another deal.
Brad Stevens and the Celtics should always look for any way possible to make this roster better. If that includes trading Kemba Walker, so be it. I just don’t believe that moving him has to be the highest priority this summer.