By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Michael Jordan did not want to give Kemba Walker the contract he earned by being the
Bobcats' Hornets' first true superstar.
Truth be told, it's not hard to fault Jordan. Unless they were guaranteed to build a winner around Walker (Charlotte probably doesn't crack a top-tier free agent's top 20 list), it'd be a complete waste of money for Jordan. And this is a man who feasts on sneakerheads for fun, so he knows a lot about wasting money. But as the first Celtics-Hornets showdown of the 2019-20 season confirmed, Danny Ainge and the Celtics should thank Jordan for that decision every day of the week, month, and year.
Because imagining the Celtics without Walker is a little scary.
This was first confirmed by the reception Walker, who spent the first eight years of his NBA in Buzz City, received upon his return. There was not a single boo for Kemba, a single 'traitor' scream, or anything even close to it, really. To get that, you have to be a damn-near perfect human being, and the stories told on 'Kemba Walker Day' sold us that perfectly. From homemade dinners with fans to charitable work, Walker seemed to be everything you'd want out of a 'max contract' talent off the court.
You want the dick-ish superstar talent or the dude eating brownies with the season-ticket holders? After two years with the former, I'll happily take the latter. It's like going from a 10 who openly cheats on you because they don't "believe in relationships as a concept" to a seven who actually wants you to tag them in your Instagram posts. What a relief.
And the 29-year-old Walker also seems like the perfect personality to bring the best out of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown -- and other promising young piece the Celtics discover during his tenure -- given what he's experienced throughout his NBA career. For Walker, who's spent the first half of his career as the lone option, it's now about winning as a team. He's already made it clear that he has no problem not being the No. 1 shooter on a team on any given night so long as they win.
Off the court, and a person, the Celtics have plenty to thank Jordan for with No. 8.
But on the court, what would have happened had Walker decided to stay in Charlotte or take his talents anywhere-but-Boston?
Maybe the Celtics would've tried their hardest to pull off a Mike Conley trade. But that would've cost more than dollars, and Gordon Hayward's early-season resurgence has probably made the C's quite happy they did not do that. There's the possibility of a sign-and-trade with the Nets involving D'Angelo Russell, but that seemed like a pipedream given the moving pieces, as well as Brooklyn's likely unwillingness to help you get better when Irving was going there all along. Or the Celtics could have dipped into the second-tier of free agent options, perhaps considering a reunion with Isaiah Thomas or signing Ricky Rubio.
Or the Celtics could have tried to mend fences with restricted free agent (and current Hornet) Terry Rozier.
Perhaps one of the most miserable Celtics not named Kyrie on last year's team, Rozier made it clear he did not want be back in Boston at the end of his rookie deal. I mean, he was talking about where he could see himself playing next year while the NBA Playoffs were still going on. Rozier has since gone back a bit (he mentioned how he'll always "love" his teammates and time in Boston when speaking ahead of this week's matchup), but turning in him in the wake of Kyrie leaving (and assuming Walker did not come to Boston) would have been straight-up awful. Especially if this is real Rozier The Starter.
Squaring off against his former team for the first time on Thursday, Rozier went 1-for-11 from the floor, and finished with just three points in a 21-point loss. I'd love to say that this was just a bad night (this was probably Rozier's worst night since his Hornets debut, to be honest), but his shooting is off to a woeful start for the second straight year and he's turning the ball over at the worst rates of his career. It seems that the 2018 playoff run becomes more of a mirage with each passing week. Rozier has always been a 'get his' kind of player, too, meaning keeping him around may have only been a different version of last year's woes, even if you paid him money (that he probably wasn't worth), as it'd be a five-man fight for possessions and shots.
Instead of those headaches, though, the Celtics have a superstar talent on and off the court.
Something that's worth every penny and more to Boston.
Here are some other random thoughts and notes from a blowout win in Charlotte...
Jaylen Brown returns
Fourth-year wing Jaylen Brown made his return to the Boston lineup after missing three games with an infection/illness. It was a truly miserable one, too, as Brown made multiple trips to the hospital due to an abscess that had to be drained. This all sounds very gross, and makes me excited to once again act like I'm dying when I'm hit with a common cold.
The C's have two bench pieces showing some early-season promise
It's tough to define exact roles less than a full month into the year, but Brad Wanamaker and Javonte Green are certainly taking their minutes and running with 'em. After finding himself buried at the bottom of an overcrowded backcourt depth chart last year, Wanamaker has emerged as a steady, do-it-all guard off the bench, and finished Thursday's victory with nine points, three assists, three rebounds, and two steals in 16 minutes. Green, meanwhile, chipped in a bench-best 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting.
Marcus Smart is Marcus Smart and Brad Stevens loves him for it
It was a Marcus Smart night. He almost got in a fight, he chirped at the Hornets at every stoppage, and even yelled at his own coach. But it's all part of what Smart such an integral part of the C's heartbeat.
Brad on Smart yelling at coach: “This is the part about Marcus that I love. His fire, his competitiveness. If there’s a moment where he’s upset with us, that’s all part of it...We’ve been together a long time. I’ve been yelled at before and that’s ok. I love him and I trust him.”
— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) November 8, 2019
That's actually a sneaky-great answer about managing a sometimes "combustible" player.
Smart and the Celtics get back to work Saturday night against the Spurs.