Sitting at 35-42 with five games to play, the Charlotte Hornets' postseason aspirations are all but finished. For the sixth time in eight years of the Kemba Walker era, the Hornets' season will end with game 82.
Set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, Walker has a decision to make: does he accept the super-max contract that the Hornets will presumably offer him or does he leave Charlotte and sign with a team that actually has serious championship aspirations?
Walker’s transformation from when he entered the league in 2011 as a first-round pick out of the University of Connecticut to where he is today is incredible. As a rookie, Walker averaged just 12 Points Per Game on 36% shooting overall, including 30% from three-point range. Walker was also a 78.9% free throw shooter, with a PER of 14.9, a True Shooting % of 46.4%, and a -0.2 Offensive Win Share total.
Flash forward to 2019 and Walker averages 25 PPG on 42.8% shooting including 35% from three-point range. Walker’s PER has also risen to 21.1, with a True Shooting % of .552, and a 4.6 Offensive Win Share total. Oh, and he was recently selected to make his third consecutive All-Star appearance too.
Walker’s transformation has not been enough to make the Hornets contenders though. To put the blame on Kemba however, would be misguided.
The fault here lies in the ownership and the general manager of the Hornets for seemingly refusing to surround Walker with any meaningful talent. Who are the best players that the Hornets have surrounded Walker with?
A 36-year-old Tony Parker whose quadricep tendon is hanging by a thread? Or maybe Nicolas Batum who has never averaged more than 15 PPG and has not had a PER higher than 15.6 since signing with the Hornets in 2015 (the league average PER is 15. Not great when you are paying a player $20,000,000+ every season.)?
While potentially leaving $80,000,000 on the table may be too much to ask for, consider this if you were Kemba Walker: what do you want your lasting legacy in the NBA to be?
Kemba would thrive in a role similar to the one that Kyrie Irving had with LeBron James during that four-year stretch with the Cleveland Cavaliers. If Walker is willing to leave the Hornets this July, I think one team that he should consider signing with is the Utah Jazz.
Everyone knows that the Jazz are looking to upgrade from Ricky Rubio at point guard. Not that Rubio is a bad player, but for a team that is already offensively limited, a player like Rubio, whose PER this season is 14, Offensive Win Shares is 0.9, and who shoots 38% from the field, does not really help them.
The Jazz are already one of the top five defensive teams in the league led by Rudy Gobert and get plenty of playmaking from small-forward Joe Ingles. What the Jazz need more than anything is another scoring guard who can complement Donovan Mitchell (hence why the Jazz would have probably traded for Mike Conley Jr. at the trade deadline had he not publicly stated that he does not want to play in Utah).
As of right now, the Jazz are one of the top five teams in the Western Conference, and with the future of the Golden State Warriors really up in the air with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, and Draymond Green all set to become free agents within the next two summers, the Jazz should look towards the free agency window this summer to add a high profile to complement their already terrific core of players.
Signing a player with the ability to score at will like Kemba Walker would convert the Jazz from a team that can win a playoff series to a team that can actually win an NBA title.