Kemba Walker Was Prepared to Turn Down $140 Million and a Better Chance to Win a Championship if Michael Jordan and the Hornets Offered Him the Max: ‘I Did Not Want to Leave Charlotte’
As Kemba Walker enjoys his homecoming with the New York Knicks, he’ll always have a spot in his heart for Charlotte. The 31-year-old spent eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, including three seasons in the Bobcats era. But ahead of 2019-20, Walker left the only franchise he knew to sign with the Boston Celtics.
While it might seem like Walker left in pursuit of a ring, he would have happily stayed with the Hornets if they offered him a max contract.
Kemba Walker was the Charlotte Hornets’ first true All-Star
With all due respect for Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson, and Glen Rice, those three were stars of the original Charlotte Hornets. But for the second go-around of the franchise, Kemba was the first true star.
Walker was drafted by Charlotte ninth overall in 2011. By his second year, he was an everyday starter averaging 17.7 points per game. By his fifth season, he upped his average to 20.9 points while setting career highs in field-goal and 3-point percentages.
In 2016-17, Kemba made his first of four straight All-Star Games. Two seasons later, in what ended up being his final year with the Hornets, Walker finished with a career-best 25.6 points per game. By the end of his Hornets tenure, Walker’s 12,009 points made him the franchise’s all-time scoring leader. He also ranks second in assists and third in steals while leading the organization in minutes.
For all of his individual success, Walker was never able to achieve team success in Charlotte. In eight seasons, Kemba’s Hornets made the playoffs twice, each ending in first-round exits. The other six seasons were sub-.500 finishes, including a rookie season where he played on a 7-59 Bobcats team.
Kemba admits he would’ve stayed with the Hornets if they offered him a max contract
Walker became an unrestricted free agent in 2019 after his four-year, $48 million extension came to an end. The veteran received an offer from the Hornets to come back, but it was below the maximum amount allowed. As a result, Kemba took his talents to Boston, joining the Celtics on a four-year pact worth over $140 million.
The 11-year point guard made an appearance on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast, revealing he would have gladly returned to the Hornets if they upped their offer.
“If it was a max offer I definitely would’ve taken it, no question. I did not want to leave Charlotte. I love Charlotte.”Kemba Walker
“I still live there to this day,” Walker continued. “Love everything about Charlotte. Love the organization, everything. I did not want to leave. But I just kind of felt like if I wasn’t getting my max, I shouldn’t be there. I felt like I was worth more. Like I had done so much there, I kind of had to just move on.”
The Charlotte Hornets made the right call to let Walker go
Saying goodbye to a franchise star is never easy. Especially to someone like Walker, who represented the team well on and off the court. However, Michael Jordan’s Hornets were ultimately wise to not offer Kemba a max contract.
Walker made the All-Star team in his first season with the Celtics, averaging 20.4 points per game and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hornets, on the other hand, went 23-42 in a forgettable 2019-20 season. However, Charlotte has been on the rise ever since, while Walker has fallen off.
The Hornets managed to land Walker’s replacement in LaMelo Ball in the 2020 NBA Draft. Ball helped spur Charlotte to an improved 33-39 record, falling just short of the playoffs. Meanwhile, Kemba’s averages fell across the board in an injury-shortened 43-game campaign.
After finishing 36-36, the Celtics decided to trade Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder with two years and $53.6 million remaining on his contract. The Thunder bought out Walker, allowing him to sign with the Knicks for two years and $17.9 million. Through 14 games in New York, he’s down to just 12.2 points and 2.9 assists in 25.4 minutes per game.
Given his love for the city and organization, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Walker return to the Hornets down the road. But given his drop in production, his role would be very different than his first stint in town.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.