An Ode To Kemba Walker's Celtics Days
There's something really special about your favorite player joining your favorite team.
That's why I was psyched out of my mind when Kemba Walker joined the Celtics in the 2019 free agency hype that had Kawhi Leonard and Paul George uniting with the Clippers and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joining forces at the Nets. The news about the humble point guard drafted 9th overall to the Hornets in 2011 joining the 17-time world champions was kind of lost in the sauce.
Friday, it was announced that Walker was being traded to the Thunder along with a first-round pick and future second-round pick for Al Horford (who will be returning to Boston), Moses Brown and a future second-round pick. Much of the basketball world was scratching their heads and several were pondering if the New York native had met expectations in Beantown.
Walker was an All-Star with the Hornets, getting his first nod in 2016 and enjoyed the mentorship of the one and only Michael Jordan. He set the franchise record and a personal best when he scored 60 points in a game against the 76ers in 2018. The former UCONN star took the lowly Charlotte team that drafted him as a Bobcat to the playoffs twice. They never made it past the first round, but Walker established himself enough to have the option of a maximum contract by the time 2019 rolled around, but the Hornets didn't pay up.
"I take my responsibilities as a professional very seriously — but I also try not to lose sight of why I’m here in the first place. I love this game," Walker wrote in his letter to the fans of Boston on The Player's Tribune. "So we’re going to grind for those buckets….. we’re going to grind for those stops….. but I’ll tell you what else: we’re going to have some fun out there. And you can bet we’re going to be fun to watch.
"And then one last thing about me: I’m a winner. I’ve always been a winner. It’s who I am — or at least who I strive to be — anytime I step foot on the court. And when I think about my future with this team, and how I’m now going to be playing for the Celtics….. I mean, that’s why I feel like it’s a match made in heaven. I want to win here, badly — and I’m excited to prove myself as that type of player in this league. I want to elevate myself into that Boston winning tradition. I want to get this team back on top."
Walker gave new life to a Celtics organization that was wondering why they weren't living up to their playoff potential with Irving. They made it to the Eastern Conference finals (Irving didn't appear in the playoffs because of a knee injury) and semifinals in his two years with the team, but failed to create synergy that inspired the city.
Walker changed that. With his kilowatt smile and positivity, he lifted a burden off the squad and helped everyone have fun playing together. He was named to his fourth All-Star game his first year with the Celtics when he had two 40+ point performances even as he adjusted to life as a role player. He helped the team get back to the Eastern Conference finals and served as a veteran leader to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.
"One of the best teammates I’ve ever had! Fam for life!" Smart shared on Twitter upon hearing the news of Walker's trade.
A lingering knee injury sidelined him for the first month of this year's NBA season and even when he returned, his playing time was limited and his shooting percentage was less-than-stellar. He had a season-high 36 points and scored 30+ three times in May, but even his best performances weren't enough to take the team to the next level.
The Thunder are getting a solid veteran point guard. Walker will mesh well with shooting guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who started his career with the Clippers after a draft day trade with the Hornets. Oklahoma City are hungry to return to their glory days as well since they haven't made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2016 when Durant left for the Warriors.
At 31, Walker still has plenty of playing days ahead of him. It's a shame he won't go down in Celtics history as a great point guard like Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones or even Rajon Rondo who, along with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, won the 2008 championship. But he will always have a special place in Lucky's heart.