Whether Kemba Walker will re-sign this offseason has been a pressing question for the Charlotte Hornets the last several years.
When the three-time All-Star was named third-team All-NBA on Thursday, that seriously changed the calculus for the only franchise he’s ever known.
The All-NBA honor makes Walker, 29, eligible for a supermax contract, which means that the Hornets can offer him a five-year, $221 million contract in free agency.
The Hornets already had the rights to offer him more than any other team — $190 over five years — but now the gap between what they can offer and what other teams can max out at ($140 over four years) is even wider. That’s not only an extra year of guaranteed money but nearly $10 million more per season rather than a $3 million bonus.
If Walker were strongly considering the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, he’ll have to think extra hard about leaving all that money on the table. However, a larger contract will also make it even harder for the Hornets to build a winning team.
What Kemba Walker means to the Hornets
Simply put, Walker is all the Hornets have. He’s only the second player since the franchise was re-established in 2004 to make an All-NBA team, joining Al Jefferson in 2004.
Walker became Charlotte’s all-time leading scorer in March and is also their leading three-point shooter while sitting second in assists and third in steals. He’s practically the only recognizable player on the roster, and Charlotte has never been known as a free-agent destination.
Walker first reached 20 points per game in the 2015-16 season and has been an All-Star in the three seasons since. However, he truly blossomed into a superstar this season with 25.6 points, 5.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while being named an All-Star starter for the first time.
What if the Hornets need to let Walker go to rebuild?
Part of the reason the Hornets were able to get within two games of the playoffs this season is because Walker was on such an affordable deal. Early into his fourth season, Walker signed a four-year, $48 million extension with the club, which has been one of the most team-friendly deals in the league.
However, the Hornets have not been able to use that extra cap space effectively. Their salary sheet is weighed down by eight-figure annual deals for Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. All five made more than Walker this year and are due to make over a combined $85 million in 2019-20.
Fortunately for the Hornets, most of their salaries will be off the books in 2020-21, but that’s a long time to wait for Walker, who may not have many years of his prime yet. Furthermore, Walker’s ability to earn the supermax only makes it harder for the Hornets to use what salary cap space they have left.
Back in April, the Charlotte Observer editorial board even suggested that Walker should leave for greener pastures. He deserves to play on a team with a chance to win, and the Hornets could use his absence to build from the ground up.
The Washington Wizards signed John Wall to a four-year, $170 million supermax contract, but he ruptured his Achilles, rendering the contract completely untradeable. That’s a worst-case scenario for the Hornets, but it’s certainly possible that a supermax for Kemba could make it nearly impossible to land a second star.
It’s hard to let go of a homegrown star player, but the Hornets have to ask themselves if they’re okay with being a fringe playoff contender or if they want to roll the dice for more.
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