Al Horford and Kyrie Irving out, Kemba Walker in? Is that a good thing for the Celtics?


BOSTON -- Kind of like finding a $10 bill after you lost a couple others that collectively have greater value, that initial loss still hurts but doesn’t sting quite as much because of your seemingly newfound wealth. 

That’s kind of how the Boston Celtics are likely to feel if they can soften the blow of losing both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to free agency, by having Kemba Walker as the team’s starting point guard on opening night of the 2019-2020 season.

Charlotte’s struggles during Walker’s eight seasons (only two playoff appearances) coupled with the Hornets being unlikely to offer Walker the super max contract (five years, $221 million) he’s eligible for, has opened the door for a team with less cash but a significantly greater window for success going forward - Boston - to swoop in and position themselves to woo Walker out of the Queen City. 

While adding Walker certainly makes the loss of Irving and Horford more palatable, it does make one wonder just how does this move fit into the Celtics’ quest for an NBA title. 

There is no question that the former UConn star can ball. 

You don’t earn all-NBA recognition like Walker did this past year for a non-playoff team, a distinction Walker shares with LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, if you can't play well at the highest levels. 

But unlike James, Walker’s season being a wrap when the regular season ends has been far more the norm than the exception to the rule during his career. 

Walker has played eight seasons, all with Charlotte, and has only been to the playoffs twice with both ending with the Hornets getting bounced in the first round. 

One might wonder how much of that blame goes to Walker.

But when you start to examine those teams, both of which began those respective postseason runs on the road, you come away realizing that those teams’ seasoned ended exactly when they were supposed to. 

Which brings us back to why Walker might be serious about walking away from a contract that could pay him more than $80 million more than the likely four-year, $141 million deal he would ink with Boston. 

Because even if the Hornets were to sign him to a super-max contract (I’m told by multiple sources Charlotte is unlikely to put such a deal on the table for the 29-year-old), he would still be on a team that at best would contend for one of the last playoff spots in the East which means next season most likely would end with a first-round playoff exit or no playoffs at all. 

Boston offers hope; hope in an upcoming season where everyone feels this could be their season and be justified because of what’s happening out in Golden State. 

The Warriors won’t have free-agent-to-be Kevin Durant for most if not all of next season, even if he decides to return to the Bay which is far from a given after Durant suffered a torn Achilles injury. 

Golden State will also be without Klay Thompson, who injured his ACL during the Finals against Toronto.

He will also be a free agent this summer, but he is expected to re-sign with the Warriors and spend most of the upcoming season rehabbing as well. 

And while the Raptors will be the defending NBA champions, there’s a chance that Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard will move on and play for the Los Angeles Clippers which would create an even wider free-for-all for the top spots in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Adding Walker gives the Celtics a fighting chance to be in those conversations, with a team led by Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart. 

When you look at the addition of Walker to this core, how much of a needle move does he really make? 

He scores a ton of points, but the 6-foot-1 guard doesn’t have the kind of positional versatility Boston would ideally want. Also, he’s used to having the ball in his hands a lot (Boston is at its best when the ball is moving side-to-side) which may result in the Celtics playing a different style of basketball or Walker forcing to modify how he plays.

And because of his size, there are legit concerns (as there were with Kyrie Irving when he arrived in Boston) about his defense. 

Those factors coupled with the increasingly unpredictable nature of the East, makes it hard to get a good feel for just how much of a bump up if at all, adding him to this group will be for Boston. 

But there’s one thing that’s undeniable, and that is the addition of Walker will make for a much more harmonious locker room that seemed to splinter at times last season.

One of the knocks on Kyrie Irving throughout his time in Boston was his leadership and lack of accountability as it relates to his role when things aren’t going well. 

Those who know Walker say that won’t be an issue if he comes to Boston. 

It may not seem like that big a deal to the casual fan, but having your best player take ownership of the bad as well as the good that goes on within the team structure, makes a huge difference in the much-needed “buy-in” for players to be at their best for what should matter most which is team - not individual - success. 

I go back to those comments Danny Ainge made shortly after the team’s introductory press conference for the four players they drafted last week. 

“I think it just makes life more enjoyable when everybody is humble, hard-working and will play any role they have to, to help the team succeed, " Ainge told reporters at the time. "You do have to have a certain amount of talent to win as we all know, but good people makes coming to work more fun."

And that may be more than anything else, is why the Celtics are so eager to eat up all their salary cap space for the 29-year-old guard. 

“Kemba’s a really good dude,” a current NBA player texted NBC Sports Boston Thursday. “I know a couple of the Celtics pretty good and Kemba, he would be a perfect fit for them. He balls out, but he doesn’t act like he’s a big-time baller, know what I mean?”

As one scout texted me this morning, “He (Walker) has always showed up and played like a first-round talent, but this guy is really humble, like he was the last pick of the draft. Good luck finding someone in the league who has an issue with Kemba. I don’t think they exist.”

Ainge has a tricky puzzle to piece together >>

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