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Once new Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens hires a head coach, his next task will be building a roster that can get the Celtics back into title contention.
There’s one clear question Stevens faces when it comes to dealing with the roster: What should the Celtics do with Kemba Walker?
The 31-year-old point guard just finished his second season in Boston, which was defined by injuries and inconsistent play. That, plus the $73.7 million he’s owed over the next two seasons, place the Celtics in a tough situation.
Can Walker get back to playing at the All-Star level he was at when he first joined the Celtics? He averaged 21.3 points and 5.5 assists per game on good efficiency in April and May. He’s also just a year removed from his last All-Star appearance, so maybe he can get back to that level.
Can Walker consistently stay on the court? He missed 29 games in the regular season plus two playoff games mostly due to a left knee injury that’s bothered him since 2019-20 season. If the knee injury gets worse, you’re stuck paying Walker roughly $37 million in each of the next two seasons while he sits on the bench.
If the Celtics decide to move on from Walker, they could have some potential trade partners. With the aforementioned uncertainty around Walker, the Celtics are unlikely to get another star or someone who could possibly play at a star level in a trade. They’ll also have to take back nearly $36 million in salary if they trade Walker to a team that’s above the salary cap.
With that in mind, here are 5 teams who could make sense for a potential Kemba Walker trade.
When Walker was a free agent in 2019, there was a reported mutual interest between him and the Mavericks before he chose to go to Boston.
Two years later, the Mavericks still have a need for a point guard. Dallas ranked 26th in assists per game this past season and severely lacks playmaking outside of Luka Doncic. Outside of Doncic’s 8.6 assists per game, Jalen Brunson was the only other Maverick to average at least three assists per game this season (he averaged 3.5 per game).
Their lack of a consistent second scorer was also apparent in their first-round series loss to the Clippers. Outside of Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., who’s set to become a free agent, was the only other Maverick to score 15 points per game in their seven-game series.
Walker can fill in both roles as a secondary scorer (averaging at least 20 points per game in five of the last six seasons) and playmaker (averaging roughly five assists per game over the last seven seasons).
With the Mavericks projected to have $20 million in cap space this offseason, there are multiple options for what the Celtics could get in return for Walker in a potential trade here.
They could swap bad contract for bad contract and take on big man Kristaps Porzingis (who has three years, $101.5 million left on his deal) straight up. If the Celtics don’t want Porzingis, they could take Josh Richardson or Dwight Powell (both are set to make around $11 million) plus another smaller contract or two. They might have to give up a pick to sweeten the deal in that situation to avoid taking on Porzingis’s contract.
Could a return home be in the cards for The Bronx native? Walker admitted he seriously considered joining the Knicks as a free agent.
The situation in New York looks much better now than it did when Walker was a free agent in 2019. The Knicks finished the regular season with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference en route to their first playoff appearance in eight years.
Like the Mavericks, the playoffs showcased the Knicks’ need for another scorer and playmaker. Julius Randle struggled to put up the same All-Star numbers he had in the regular season and the Knicks’ time in the playoffs was brief, losing to the Hawks 4-1 in the first round.
New York’s point guard situation for next season is unclear. Sixth Man of the Year finalist Derrick Rose is a free agent. Elfrid Payton averaged just 10.1 points and 3.2 assists per game. Immanuel Quickley looked solid for a rookie, but he’s still young.
Also like the Mavericks, the Knicks have cap space – and lots of it. They’re projected to have $50 million in cap room, meaning they can take Walker’s $36 million salary without giving up anything. The Knicks also don’t have any big salaries to unload, with Randle being the lone player set to make eight figures next season.
If the Celtics do move Walker to New York, they won’t be taking a bad contract in return, but they may have to give up a little more for trading a bad contract.
If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past year, the Thunder are open to any trade as long as they receive a draft pick.
The best example of this was when they traded for Al Horford, whose four-year, $97 million contract was believed to be one of the worst in the league, last November. The Thunder got a 2025 first-round pick from the 76ers for their troubles and shipped Danny Green to Philadelphia.
Oklahoma City doesn’t appear to be contending anytime soon after going 22-50 this past season. However, their point guard situation looks bleak and will continue to look that way if they fail to win the Draft Lottery and the chance to draft Cade Cunningham.
Taking back Horford is the only way the Celtics could get this trade done. A reunion with Horford could be nice for the Celtics. He averaged 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds in 28 games last season before he and the Thunder mutually agreed to let him sit for the rest of the season.
The Clippers’ playoff run is still ongoing, but what if they crash and burn in the playoffs for a second straight season?
If the nightmare result happens in LA again, trading for Walker could make sense for the Clippers. A noticeable hole they’ve had on their roster the last two seasons is a lack of playmaking from their point guard spot. They brought in Rajon Rondo at the trade deadline this season, but he’s currently out of their playoff rotation. Reggie Jackson’s performed well for them in the playoffs, scoring 16.3 points per game this postseason, but is a free agent.
If the Celtics and Clippers decide to pursue a Walker trade, the Clippers would likely have to give up two of Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, or Patrick Beverley plus another smaller salary. Any of those three players could help the Celtics’ depth issues, but would the Celtics be OK with giving up Walker for depth pieces?
A move to South Beach might sound nice to Walker.
After reaching the NBA Finals last season, the Heat saw their 2020-21 season end in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Bucks. Miami’s offense was in the middle of the pack this season, ranking 17th in offensive rating.
A reason for the Heat’s downfall could be the decline in play from veteran point guard Goran Dragic. The 35-year-old missed 22 games and saw his scoring average drop nearly three points this season. With Dragic’s decline, The Athletic’s David Aldridge thinks the Heat could be a team that pursues Walker.
With star Jimmy Butler turning 32 before the start of next season and the chance he becomes a free agent at year’s end, the Heat could make the urgent move to take on someone like Walker.
There’s really only one way for a Walker to Miami trade to happen. The Heat would have to accept the team options for Dragic and Andre Iguodala and then trade them to the Celtics. Would the Celtics want to take two 35-plus-year-old players and ship Walker to a conference rival? Probably not, but they’d get two expiring contracts in return that can create cap space in 2022 or be moved as trade chips, potentially making a trade with Miami a three-team trade.
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