Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens spoke previously about the difficulty of trading Kemba Walker.
Stevens, at the time, spoke of Walker’s humility, work ethic and optimism, and acknowledged how the undersized point guard played a big role in the development of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Well, that decision, which at the time felt like the right move for the organization, received further validation Monday. Walker, who signed a two-year deal with the Knicks after agreeing to a buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder — where the Celtics traded him — now has lost his spot in New York’s rotation.
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters Monday that Walker was not only being relieved from his role as starting point guard, but being removed from the rotation as a whole.
“I view Kemba as a starter, and so it’d be tough to play three small guards together,” Thibodeau said, per ESPN. “I gave it consideration, and I’ve got great respect for who Kemba is as a person and all he’s accomplished in this league. But I have to do what I think is best for the team.”
Alec Burks is expected to take over as the starting point guard.
Walker, 31, is averaging career lows with 11.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 9.8 field goal attempts per game and 24.5 minutes per contest. Walker has struggled mightily recently, as well, while averaging 10 points on 39% shooting overall — and 29% from 3-point range — with three assists per game in 12 contests in November.
Of course, it’s fair to say the Celtics haven’t exactly been playing at a consistently high level through their start of the season. That’s depicted by their 11-10 record. But in trading Walker, Stevens not only got a bloated contract off the books, but also landed Al Horford and Moses Brown. Brown was flipped for Josh Richardson shortly thereafter.
Horford, who has a double-double in eight of his 18 games, and Richardson have turned into two of the biggest contributors for the Celtics this season. Richardson is shooting a career-best 47% from the field, albeit on less shots than each of his five previous seasons, and has been equally impactful on the defensive end — as depicted Sunday in his first game after missing three straight. Horford not only has been big stuffing the stat sheet, but his ability is felt with floor spacing, defense and a locker room presence, as well.
Again, this isn’t to say that Stevens’ trade of Walker was met by criticism at the onset of the trade in June. It definitely was not. But through the first quarter of the season, and Monday specifically, it’s received further validation that it was the correct move for the franchise.