Let’s make this very simple: the Boston Celtics absolutely should sign Kemba Walker.
Nothing has gone Boston’s way to this point in the offseason. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are expected to leave in free agency. Anthony Davis reportedly is heading to the Los Angeles Lakers after months of trade speculation. And the C’s failed to make a splash with their three first-round picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, despite how highly the organization might view the players it selected last week.
Yet signing Walker would have the potential to save Danny Ainge’s summer, and the Celtics president of basketball operations therefore shouldn’t think twice about offering the All-Star point guard a max contract when free agency opens Sunday night — even if there’s some inherent risk involved.
Let’s run down seven reasons why signing Walker would make sense for Boston.
1. Walker fills a glaring need.
Pretty straightforward, right? The Celtics are set to lose Irving, one of the best point guards in the NBA. What better way to replace him than to sign another player who’s considered among the best at the position?
Now, for clarity’s sake, Irving is better than Walker. The numbers, the accolades and the eye test all confirm such. But Walker is pretty damn good. His scoring touch would go a long way toward mitigating the loss of Irving — more so than any other option reportedly available to the Celtics — and there’s a chance Walker could improve while playing alongside a better supporting cast in Boston.
2. Walker has a great reputation.
The biggest knock on Irving? Leadership. One could even argue it was Boston’s fatal flaw this past season, when the Celtics’ young core failed to mesh with the veteran point guard. It’s hard to imagine that being a problem with Walker, though, for the 29-year-old has been lauded as an exceptional leader throughout his NBA career.
Sure, Irving is more talented. But Walker’s intangibles, loyalty and overall team-first mentality — he expressed a willingness to accept a hometown discount to remain with the Charlotte Hornets — make him a strong fit from a character standpoint. And that’s exactly what the Celtics need after a season in which their chemistry crumbled.
3. Signing Walker sends a message.
The Celtics could go ahead and build around their young core — anchored by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — and it’d be hard to find fault with the decision given the dearth of viable alternative options available. If nothing else, it’d be time for Boston’s perceived building blocks to sink or swim after months of media speculation about just how much Irving’s presence stunted their growth. There’s even reason to believe Tatum and Brown would embrace the opportunity with chips on their shoulders.
But there’s also the reality that Boston is set to lose its two most accomplished players in Irving and Horford, and the Celtics would run the risk of giving off the impression they’re punting on the 2019-20 season by failing to replace either with a proven commodity. Signing Walker — or someone of his ilk — would go a long way toward proving to the players remaining in the Celtics’ locker room that the organization is committed as much to winning now as it is to winning in the future.
4. Why wait?
The 2020 free agency class doesn’t hold a candle to the group of players available on the open market this offseason. It’s also difficult to foresee many impact players, if any, becoming available on the trade market in the coming months with a glut of franchise cornerstones signing max contracts this summer.
So, it would behoove the Celtics to strike now rather than kick the can down the road. And while the Celtics could use their newfound financial flexibility on a different plan — like re-signing Terry Rozier, who’s a restricted free agent, and adding a veteran center, like Nikola Vucevic — Boston would be best-served following the path that involves acquiring the best player it can. Hello, Kemba.
5. The Eastern Conference hangs in the balance.
This goes hand in hand with No. 4. The Celtics theoretically could wait to push their chips into the middle of the table, but doing so would ignore not just the talent available this offseason but also the current window of opportunity in the East.
The Toronto Raptors might lose Kawhi Leonard. The Milwaukee Bucks might lose Khris Middleton. The Philadelphia 76ers might lose Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Other moves will be made, causing some fluctuation in projections for the East, but the Celtics are very much in the thick of things when it comes to sorting out the conference’s contenders. Signing Walker only boosts Boston’s standing.
6. Signing Walker is an easy sell.
The Celtics were so unlikable this past season that it’d actually be relatively easy to sell the fan base on a youth movement. It’d be even easier, however, to sell the fan base on a full-court press to restore Boston’s hard-working basketball culture, spearheaded by carefully chosen holdovers and a former University of Connecticut national champion who’s since become one of the NBA’s most well-respected stars. It’s safe to say those “Walker” jerseys would fly off the shelves, which is a nice little perk when it coincides with doing what’s best from an on-court perspective.
7. Signing Walker would ensure Boston remains a desirable destination.
For years, the Celtics were unable to attract high-profile free agents. That seemingly changed when Horford took his talents to Boston in the summer of 2016, but he’s now about to leave at his first opportunity to do so. Not the best look, especially given this past season’s problems, Irving’s impending departure and Davis showing a complete lack of interest in re-signing with Boston long-term when the Celtics were linked to the New Orleans Pelicans star in trade rumors.
The Celtics need someone to take a chance on them in order to stop the public relations bleeding and reestablish Boston as a place where guys want to play. Walker could be exactly what the doctor ordered, for his arrival just might be a precursor to even bigger things — both in the short- and long-term.