Kemba Walker made it clear in the lead-up to free agency that he wanted to stay with the Charlotte Hornets, the team that drafted him ninth overall in 2011.
Life doesn’t always give what one wants, though, and the new Boston Celtics point guard dished to The Athletic’s Shams Charania how difficult it was to accept leaving the Hornets after they couldn’t give him a justifiable offer.
Report: Hornets offered $60M less than max
Walker’s All-NBA selection, the first in his eight-year career, made him eligible for a supermax contract from the Hornets worth $221.3 million over five years. Other teams could offer around $140 million over four years.
Walker, 29, repeatedly said he’d be willing to take less to stay in Charlotte, but it had to be a discount within reason. Negotiations stalled with the Hornets and Walker turned to the Celtics because, he told The Athletic, the Hornets couldn’t get him the offer he wanted.
“Tough days, f---ing tough days, I can’t even lie,” Walker told The Athletic. “Excuse my language. It was difficult. I couldn’t see myself just being on another team. It was just hard. That’s all I’ve known was Charlotte. Definitely some tough times. I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to get the offer that I wanted, and maybe not close to it, because of cap space.
“I had to get my head wrapped around the feeling and picking another team.”
Walker on ‘contending at this high level’
The 6-foot-1 Walker turned his attention to the Celtics, who moved on from the hopes of re-signing point guard Kyrie Irving. He said he realized the history of the organization and the city as well as its proximity to his alma mater, UConn. The Bronx native led the Huskies, who play less than two hours from Boston, to the 2011 national title and earned Most Outstanding Player.
The Celtics will again compete for the Eastern Conference title after reaching the conference finals in 2017 and ’18 and. They’ve made the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons, dating back to their NBA championship season in 2008.
Those are more playoff berths than the Hornets have clinched in their history (10). Walker has been to the postseason twice, both first-round losses, and is figuring out the large jump.
“I haven’t wrapped my mind around contending at this high level,” Walker told The Athletic. “It doesn’t even sound right. I’ve been with the Hornets for eight years, and maybe one time we had some expectations. Maybe just one season; seven-, six-seed or something.
“This year, there will be expectations — and I’m excited. I don’t know how to feel, I’ve never had this feeling.”
Walker is currently at the national team’s camp preparing for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, which will be held in China. With him are new teammates Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, which could create an early look at what’s to come in Boston.
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