When the Boston Celtics signed Kemba Walker ahead of the 2019-20 NBA season, they expected him to be that third star behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Now that Boston is coming off a premature exit in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs and with major changes within the organization, that might no longer be the case.
“Kemba Walker is one of the most overpaid players in the NBA and league sources expect the Celtics to explore moving him in a trade to help create some current and future salary flexibility and reduce what is currently set to be the highest tax bill in team history,” MassLive’s Brian Robb reported on Wednesday.
With former head coach Brad Stevens transitioning to a top player personnel role within the Celtics’ organization to replace the retired Danny Ainge, we’re expecting Boston to be active this summer. Whether this includes even the remote possibility that other teams will show interest in Kemba Walker remains to be seen.
Jared Weiss of The Athletic notes that other teams “still view Walker as having negative trade value should the team decide to go that route this offseason.”
For good reason.
Walker, 31 has played in 99 games over two seasons with the Celtics. He missed the latter part of their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets with the same knee injury that has been bothering him over the past few seasons. He’s also set to earn $36 million in 2021-22 and has a player option of $37.7 million the following season.
Despite this, some team might be willing to take a chance on Walker. The four-time All-Star is averaging 22.2 points and 5.4 assists on 38% shooting from distance since the start of the 2015-16 season.
If Boston were to find a trade partner, it would have to take on another bad contract while potentially sending draft pick compensation the other way. It’s not something Ainge would have done in his near two-decade run with the Celtics. However, Stevens might be open to it as he transitions to a role in the front office. Below, we look at three potential trade scenarios.
Kemba Walker traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder
In what would be an interesting twist, Boston might bring back Al Horford if this deal were to come to fruition. The five-time All-Star played in just 28 games for the Thunder this past season before both sides came to the conclusion that it made sense for him to sit. At 34 years old, Horford is no longer the player he was with the Celtics from 2016-19, but he could provide something inside.
As for the Thunder, this deal could make sense given that front office head Sam Presti is always looking to add draft pick assets. Oklahoma City would be taking on north of $20 million in additional salary by swapping Horford for Walker. In return, it gets a future first-round pick from the Celtics.
Kemba Walker traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
Does Kevin Love have much left in the tank? It’s highly questionable after yet another injury-plagued season from the five-time All-Star. But this is the type of contract Boston would have to take on if it were to move Walker. It would also save the team $14 million over the next two seasons.
In return for making this move, the Celtics add a 20-point scorer in Collin Sexton. He’s firmly on the trade block right now. Why would Cleveland do this? It’s rather simple. It gets 2020 first-round pick Aaron Nesmith and future draft capital by moving off Love for Walker.
Kemba Walker traded to the Sacramento Kings
By now, it’s pretty clear that the Kings are going to move off guard Buddy Hield and big man Marvin Bagley III. There’s also talk that underrated wing Harrison Barnes could be traded. Why not reach out to the Celtics about a massive trade that includes Kemba Walker?
From Sacramento’s perspective, it might not have a need for Walker with De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton in the backcourt. But this move would be to bring in other assets as the Kings look to rebuild under embattled head coach Luke Walton. That could include Aaron Nesmith, multiple first-round picks and Marcus Smart — the latter of whom would be sent packing to a third team. It could very well make sense for both teams.