Kemba Walker is still in awe that he’s in Boston. The Celtics point-guard officially signed a four-year, $141 million deal with the team in June, but the decision to leave the Charlotte Hornets was an unexpected one for him. Walker, who spent eight seasons with the Hornets, told The Athletic that he was waiting for an offer from the team, but when one didn’t come, reality hit him – he had to leave.
“It was difficult,” Walker said. “I couldn’t see myself just being on another team. It was just hard. That’s all I’ve known was Charlotte. Definitely some tough times. I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to get the offer that I wanted, and maybe not close to it, because of cap space…I had to get my head wrapped around the feeling and picking another team.”
When the Celtics presented their best option, Walker began considering them as a possibility. Even the close proximity to his alma mater, the University of Connecticut, appealed to him. “I’ll get to have a lot of UConn fans around,” Walker said. “And even better, I get a chance to get back more to school, possibly, to watch some games.”
He is excited for the new opportunity. “It got real, like, ‘Damn, I can really be a Celtic,” he said.
Walker did acknowledge the pressure that comes with joining the Celtics: replacing Kyrie Irving.
“I’m not trying to go in and think that I have to be better than Kyrie last year,” Walker said. “It happens. Great players go to teams all the time and it just doesn’t work. It just didn’t work for him. Kyrie is one of the best players we have in this world. It was just unfortunate, an unfortunate season.”
However, he is focused on helping the team rebuild: “I’m not coming in thinking I’m going to be better,” he said. “I’m coming in to do my job, play my part and do what I can to elevate these guys as much as possible. Do what I can to help the team, to contribute to winning. These guys, they’ve been winning for years. I want to be part of that. This is a big-time roster. The guys that make up the roster, there’s such great young talent — guys who are hungry, who want to win and want to get better and work hard. That’s who I want to be around.”
“Point guards can have great success under Coach [Brad Stevens]. Obviously Kyrie left, so it was an open point guard spot. It was just perfect. Boston is such a historic place. Who wouldn’t want to play for the Celtics?”
Playing for the Celtics definitely comes with expectations, and that pressure is new territory for Walker – the Hornets have not made the NBA playoffs since the 2015-16 season. Playing in Boston will give him a chance to compete at a high level.
“I haven’t wrapped my mind around contending at this high level,” Walker told The Athletic. “It doesn’t even sound right. I’ve been with the Hornets for eight years, and maybe one time we had some expectations. Maybe just one season; seven-, six-seed or something.”
“This year, there will be expectations – and I’m excited. I don’t know how to feel, I’ve never had this feeling.”