The Knicks will play host to the Boston Celtics, the team that traded Walker in the offseason. Kemba wants to get off on the right foot with his hometown team and is using a date with his old teammates as an incentive to kick the 2021-22 season off with a bang.
The Celtics traded Kemba Walker away this summer before he ultimately signed with the Knicks
The writing was on the wall for Kemba Walker in Boston, even if he didn’t know it yet.
Walker gave the Celtics exactly what they needed in his first season in Beantown: a playmaking guard who could create off the bounce and shoot the ball from the perimeter. He also took on a role as the team’s veteran leader, guiding young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the road to superstardom.
Kemba was named an All-Star starter during the 2019-20 campaign. But things began to go downhill in a hurry. The former Charlotte Hornets star began experiencing knee issues in January 2020, and those issues essentially persisted for the better part of the next year-plus. He missed 29 games in 2020-21 and struggled immensely in the playoffs, averaging just 12.7 points on 31.7% shooting from the field in a first-round loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
Between the chronic knee pain and money owed in the next couple of seasons, the Celtics decided it was time to move on from Walker. They traded Kemba to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford and Moses Brown, who was later dealt to the Dallas Mavericks as part of the Josh Richardson trade.
Walker and the Thunder, a team still in the early stages of rebuilding, agreed to a buyout, and he ultimately signed a two-year, $18 million deal with the Knicks. The Bronx native has expressed excitement about lacing up the sneakers for his hometown team, and he’s also quite thrilled to have an early chance at revenge against the Celtics.
Walker is hungry to prove his worth against his old team
Whether Kemba Walker had the first game of the season scheduled on his calendar circled is unknown. But he sure does sound eager to play against the Celtics.
Walker offered a bit of a generic statement Tuesday in saying that he plays to win every game. However, he acknowledged (h/t Ian Begley of SNY.tv) having an early shot at Boston.
Although the 31-year-old seems to have fond recollections of his two-year run in Beantown, there’s a certain sense of sourness in terms of how things ended with the Celtics.
Walker told ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post podcast that his time with the Celtics was “great” and that he still talks with his former teammates. But he also said he had no prior knowledge that he would be traded and was confused when reports suggested his camp agreed it was time for a change.
In any case, Walker begins a new chapter against his old team on Wednesday night. What will this chapter of his career look like?
Walker could be a swing player for the Knicks
Kemba Walker’s health could very well define whether the Knicks improve upon last season’s playoff berth or turn into one of the Eastern Conference’s biggest disappointments.
When he’s right physically, Walker is one of the better point guards in the NBA. He averaged 21.8 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.1 rebounds in 46 games before the All-Star break during the 2019-20 campaign, at which point the knee issues began to settle in and take their toll.
If the Knicks get the above version of Walker, they could continue to assert themselves as one of the most exciting teams in the East. New York allotted quite a few minutes to Elfrid Payton at the point guard spot last season. Walker is a sizable upgrade over Payton when he’s on the floor.
Of course, there’s no telling how milage and past knee troubles will impact Walker this season. It will be interesting to see how head coach Tom Thibodeau handles his veteran backcourt point guard tandem, especially with Derrick Rose nursing early injuries.
Regardless, Walker will likely be looking to show his old team he’s still an All-Star-caliber player in the NBA when the Knicks and Celtics meet Wednesday night in the Garden.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.