Since the franchise returned to Charlotte in 2004, no player has meant more to the Charlotte Hornets, née Bobcats, than Kemba Walker.
The diminutive point guard has made the franchise’s only All-Star appearances since 2011 and is perhaps their only player with nationwide name recognition.
But in July, Walker is set to hit free agency for the first time, which leaves the team at a crossroads. They’ll certainly offer him a max contract — which would reach $221 million over five years if he makes an All-NBA team this year — but there’s a question of whether Walker will stay.
Just two months ago, Walker reiterated that he wanted to remain with the only franchise he’s ever known. But the Charlotte Observer editorial board has another piece of advice for the 28-year-old: It’s time to go.
As shocking as it is to see a local newspaper recommend that a player move on to greener pastures, it’s a thoughtful argument to make, albeit one not many fans will appreciate. Walker has been outstanding but has largely spent his career toiling in mediocrity.
“This is a human argument — how a special player should get the opportunity to find something truly special someplace else,” the editorial read. “Walker is a legitimate NBA All-Star in the prime of his career, but he’s on a team that has too many players whose performance doesn’t live up to the big dollars they’re paid. That is, at least in the short term, a recipe for more of what fans saw Wednesday — Kemba lighting up the Orlando Magic for 43 points, but the Hornets losing and missing the playoffs for the third straight year.”
Can the Hornets compete soon?
Every player has a different set of preferences when it comes to free agency. Winning, money and comfort can all have different weights. The Hornets can certainly offer comfort and the most money, but what about the playoffs?
Charlotte has only made the postseason twice during Walker’s tenure and even then only won three games. Worse yet, they’ve been stuck in neutral with 36 to 39 wins each of the last three seasons, even if that brought them within two games of the playoffs this year.
Locked into hefty contracts from forwards Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams plus bigs Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo, the Hornets have not been able to make quality additions. Batum was supposed to be the second star, but since signing a $120 million contract, he’s he's only averaging 12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.
Too bad to win but too good for a top draft pick, the Hornets have had to settle for talented but raw players such as Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the draft. With a solid offseason and good health, they dould be knocking on the door of the playoffs, but a championship in the near future seems unlikely.
What are the Hornets without Walker?
It may be hard for Walker to imagine playing outside of Charlotte, there are plenty of exciting options for him. The Dallas Mavericks are reportedly interested in making a big three with him, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers would take a long look, and he could fill Muggsy Bogues’ shoes for Space Jam 2.
Without Walker, the Hornets would quickly fall to the bottom fo the East. It would take a year to clear out most of their bad contracts, and perhaps by then one of their young players would have a chance to thrive on his own.
As the editorial points out, perhaps it is for the best for the team to clear the books and bottom out. It was a long decade of bad play before Walker and the then-Bobcats reached semi-relevance, but it could represent a smarter business decision.
Charlotteans have long dreamed of native son Stephen Curry playing out the end of his career with the Hornets, but maybe they’ll settle for the return of Kemba.
“This isn’t only about us,” the editorial said. “It’s about him. The Hornets should let Kemba walk. Charlotteans should say goodbye. And thank you. And come back home when you’re done.”
More from Yahoo Sports: