Kemba Walker, a four-time All-Star, has agreed to a contract with the buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder and will sign with the New York Knicks after clearing waivers.
Walker was dealt to the Thunder in a trade that saw Al Horford return to Boston, where he played the best basketball of his career. OKC is a young team focused on rebuilding and playing for the future, two criteria that the 31-year-old point guard did not meet.
Kemba Walker to the Knicks
Walker’s value has diminished over the past couple of years, with different injuries and a couple of disappointing playoff performances lowering his appeal on the open market and ultimately getting him sent to the Panhandle. He will make around $8 million per year in New York for a team that struggled to find reliable shooting and playmaking from its guards, with an aging Derrick Rose bearing more responsibility than imagined in both areas. Walker will become the team’s best isolation scorer the moment he steps into the locker room and gives them another dimension after they flamed out in the first round of this year’s playoffs.
The former UConn guard had the signature moment of his career in Madison Square Garden, the Knicks’ home arena, when he was in college, crossing over a defender and nailing a step-back as the clock expire in a Big East Tournament game.
“Cardiac Kemba” has also played extremely well at the Garden throughout his professional career, scoring the third-most points per game at the venue since he entered the league in 2011. MSG is often thought of as the “Mecca” of basketball, and he is heading to a place where he has shined for a decade.
This move suits everyone involved for multiple reasons— the Thunder did not need an older point guard that would take playing time away from its young rotation of guards, namely Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who just locked up a five-year deal worth over $170 million; Kemba did not want to be on a team that was not focused on making the playoffs, and the Knicks needed a starting point guard that can score and play-make.
This is one of those rare instances where a deal fully fits everybody’s needs.
New York Makes a Splash
The Knicks now have their answer to recent free agency moves made by the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, who rebuffed their squads with new point guards (Lonzo Ball and Kyle Lowry) and could jump past New York in the playoff pecking order.
Schematically, Walker will help a team that finished in the bottom-third of three-pointers made per game and can collapse the lane with dribble-drive penetrations; he and Rose will rotate off of each other and will hardly play together, but they are partial facsimiles of each other at this stage in their careers.
The biggest concern for Walker will be whether or not he can buy into a team that prided itself on playing suffocating, tenacious defense, and won games by virtue of limiting its opponents rather than trying to flat-out outscore them.
Regardless of what happens in the coming season, Walker’s name will sell tickets and continue to boost the Knicks’ resurgent reputation after they largely wasted their spot in America’s largest market. He could also be an important piece in luring future free agents to the Big Apple, given his tight-knit relationships with other All-Stars and Team USA members.
The 2021 NBA free agency is still coming fast and furiously, and Walker’s impending move to the Knicks is just the most recent step in a story that is far from over.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.