For Celtics' Kemba Walker, 2019 ends where it began — in Charlotte


For Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker, 2019 will end exactly where it began for him — in Charlotte. 

But as we all know, Walker’s basketball life is quite different now than it was at the start of this year when he played for the Charlotte Hornets. 

The days of hoping to sneak into one of the last playoff spots, a goal seemingly every year for the Hornets, has been replaced by the lofty expectations that come with being part of a storied franchise like the Celtics which has more championships (17) than any NBA franchise. 

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And the Celtics continue to keep their sights set on the ultimate prize, with Walker’s play and presence being part of that plan. 

But here’s the thing. 

Even when Walker has an off night, it doesn’t spell doom and gloom in Boston the way it did in Charlotte for him. 

Walker had his first 0-for-the-field game with Boston earlier this season. 

And the end result? A 21-point win over Detroit. 

The only other time that had happened in a game that he was healthy enough to finish came on Nov. 26, 2012 in Charlotte. 

And the end result of that game? A 45-point loss to Oklahoma City. 

Different time, different opponent and yes, dramatically different result. 

But that Pistons win highlights the most telling difference between the team Walker rolls with now and the one he used to. 

As talented as he is, and important a role he plays for the Celtics, this team is built to compete at a high level with or without him. 

And on those nights when his shot isn’t dropping, they have more than enough weapons to find a path towards success. 

Back in Charlotte? 

Not so much. 

Walker is doing now what he has longed to do since coming into the NBA — win at the highest level. 

He did so as a prep star in the Bronx by winning a state title. 

That was soon followed by a three-year stint at UConn which he capped off with an All-American season that ended with a national championship. 

But those times serve as faded memories of what was, replaced for the most part by a professional career that has garnered significant individual accomplishments with very little team success. 

Indeed, Walker’s team-centric goals have been more like a dream deferred … until now. 

In Boston, the Celtics are 22-8 thus far this season. 

That's a change compared to his time in Charlotte, when the best 30-game record the Hornets compiled was a 17-13 mark in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. 

When the Celtics and Hornets engineered the sign-and-trade sending Walker to Boston and Terry Rozier to Charlotte this summer, Walker being part of a more built-to-win-now situation was a given. 

But the Celtics getting off to the second best record in the East has been among the many revelations for this team since Walker’s arrival. 

And so as the final curtain falls on 2019, Walker and the Celtics have one last act to perform, an act that takes Walker to a familiar place that bookends what has been a year of transition for him.  

But make no mistake about it. 

Walker is very much in a different place basketball-wise now, even if 2019 for him begins and ends in the same place. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Hawks, which tips off Friday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Tommy have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

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