Latest posts by Colton Jones (see all)
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There has been plenty said about Kemba Walker and the Cleveland Cavaliers, dating all the way back to the days leading up to the NBA trade deadline last Feb. 8.
A deal that would send Walker, a two-time All-Star point guard for the Charlotte Hornets heading into the final season on a contract that will pay him a modest $12 million has not come to fruition.
Not yet, anyway.
But we all know the old saying, “Where there’s smoke… ”
Which is why I offer this — Kemba Walker will be a Cleveland Cavalier sometime this summer.
If, that is, LeBron James decides to remain a Cavalier, be it by picking up his $35.6 million player option by the deadline (Friday at 11:59 p.m.) or signing another short-term (more likely) or supermax (less likely) deal to remain in Cleveland if he declines the option and hits free agency.
This is simply an opinion, mind you, but that’s the idea. It’s formed by reading between the lines, especially from the Charlotte side of the equation.
New Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak has been glowing in his praise of Walker the past week.
“I think he is revered in this community. I know ownership, and myself included, look at him as the focal point of this franchise going forward,” Kupchak said.
“(Walker) is a player that we hope is with us, not only for the next couple of years, but he ends his career here.”
That’s all well and good, but the fact remains the Hornets face the daunting task of losing the franchise’s all time leading scorer after next season and receiving nothing in return other than a “thanks for the memories” card.
To which even Kupchak even admitted when asked about the future of the 28-year-old Walker in Charlotte.
“He is on a (contract) that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out (the best course) before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak said.
Translation: Charlotte signing Walker to a contract extension before he hits free agency on July 19 is practically impossible because the Hornets don’t have room under the salary cap to do so.
“I think everybody is aware of the situation,” Kupchak said. “If you follow basketball a little bit, it is unique that he is on an extension that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out before he becomes a free agent.
“I don’t think it is anybody’s goal to lose him in free agency.”
Sound familiar, Cavalier fans?
If James decides to remain with the team for which he’s played 11 of his 15 NBA seasons, Cleveland will remain in win-now mode.
Even though everyone from owner Dan Gilbert to general manager Koby Altman to head coach Tyronn Lue has all but gushed in heaping praise on Collin Sexton — who the Cavaliers selected with the eighth overall pick out of Alabama in the draft Thursday night — if James stays put and the cost of adding Walker includes Sexton, well, it’s a no-brainer.
Not that Sexton won’t become a solid NBA player. He’s strong, aggressive, an excellent defender, full of confidence and says all the right things. However, his jumper needs work and he’s a ball-dominant point guard.
If LeBron returns, Sexton could indeed back up veteran George Hill at the point for the Cavs and lead the second unit while James gets his 10 minutes or so of rest each night, akin to what Terrell Brandon, taken with the 11th overall selection in the 1991 draft out of Oregon, did for the Cavaliers behind All-NBA point guard Mark Price almost three decades ago.
But it became obvious, painfully so many times, that the Cavs sporting LeBron and Kevin Love as the top two scoring options in the playoffs this season were in desperate need of another All-Star level scorer, something Sexton cannot and should not be expected to do.
A career 18.9-point scorer, Walker has averaged more than 20 points per game the last three seasons with the Hornets. This season, he averaged 22.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 34.2 minutes in 80 games, shooting 43.1 percent from the floor, including 38.4 percent from deep.
Adding Walker to James and Love would give the Cavs three guys capable of scoring 20 a night, similar to what they had before Kyrie Irving asked out of town last summer.
Behind Walker at the point, the Hornets have last year’s first-round pick, Malik Monk, and Devonte Graham, selected in the second round out of Kansas on Thursday night, meaning Sexton would have ample opportunity to develop his game to compete at the NBA level with fellow rookie Miles Bridges out of Michigan, taken in the first round Thursday, for new coach James Borrego.
What could a potential deal for Walker look like? Something along the lines of Sexton and Jordan Clarkson for Walker, or if the Hornets insist on attaching Nicolas Batum’s awful contract to any deal involving Walker, the Cavs could include Tristan Thompson to make the numbers work.
But those details for Altman and Kupchak to decipher. They will find a way to make the money match. If James returns to Cleveland, it says here they will find a way to make the deal for Walker happen.
It would benefit both franchises.
If James heads elsewhere, none of this matters.
“Winning championships is still our goal and will always be our goal,” Altman said at Sexton’s introductory press conference Friday. “But through that process we wanted to focus on long-term success, sustainability. Going through this year we were able to get younger and talented and athletic and have some real momentum going into the future.
“For the first time in a long time, we’re going to be in the player-development business.”
Walker is already developed. Like James and Love, he’s an All-Star. If LeBron returns, the future is now, anyway.