By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Prepping for what Danny Ainge himself described as a ‘crazy’ offseason, the Celtics appear in on just about everything.
It seems like there’s legitimate smoke with Gordon Hayward and the Pacers. That’s understandable, really. The marriage between Hayward and the Celtics has been marred by horrendous luck, there’s rumors of Hayward wanting out, and talk of the 30-year-old considering ‘the Al Horford plan‘ ahead of his player option deadline. Given the cap ramifications (no help whatsoever) of Hayward opting out, the Celtics have no interest in getting Horforded for the second time in as many offseasons. If there’s a way to get something over nothing, Ainge is going to explore that.
The Celtics have also been linked to a potential trade-up in next week’s draft. That, again, is understandable. With three first-round picks (No. 14, 26, and 30) and a second-round selection to their name in this year’s good-not-great draft — and with no interest in adding four rookies to their team — the Celtics are looking over their options. Whether that’s to grab a lotto talent or parlay such a pick into a trade for the Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday seems to be the question, and those rumors will only intensify until he’s officially moved. (That can’t happen until next Monday at the earliest, by the way.)
But one move that should be completely off the table for the Celtics this offseason? Trading point guard Kemba Walker.
Yeah, I get it. The knee is more than a little worrisome. The Celtics can say what they’re gonna say, but it’s giving you those Isaiah Thomas circa 2017 vibes. A wonky knee limited Walker prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a four-month break didn’t heal it completely, as Walker battled the issue on a day-to-day, round-to-round basis throughout Boston’s 17-game Orlando bubble run.
Knees aren’t known to get better at 30 years old, and Walker’s size and style don’t exactly inspire confidence in his being the outlier.
But honestly, it’s the undeniably disastrous optics of a potential Walker trade should make this straight-up forbidden.
Start with the obvious: If the Celtics traded Walker, that’d make it four point guards in five years for the Celtics.
Brad Stevens has been able to get tremendous production out of the position throughout his time here, but this would be pushing it, especially from a chemistry standpoint. (Enough of talking about ‘building chemistry’ for the future. The time’s now.) There’s also the fact that Walker may be the best fit out of all the high-level guards rotated at the one. Walker’s movement and screens have been an upgrade over pure scorers like Thomas and Kyrie Irving.
You’d also be trading a max contract talent — and one who truly embraced his role — out of town after just one year. This would terrify any potential star looking at Boston as an option in free agency. Boston is already up against it as a free agent destination, and it might be about to get harder if the Heat are able to lure Giannis to South Beach next year. Throwing Walker to some non-contender (or anywhere outside of Boston) after one season would take a blow torch to a free agent’s trust.
Oh, and the Celtics would look like they were ditching a player at the first sign of injury. You can argue that the Celtics are still feeling the sting of doing that with I.T. based on what the father of Anthony Davis had to say about his son coming to Boston.
“I would never want my son to play for Boston after what they done to Isaiah Thomas,” Davis Sr. told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne in 2019. “No loyalty. Guy gives his heart and soul and they traded him.”
What makes Walker a must-keep presence for the Celtics, however, is the aforementioned fact that Walker’s accepted his role.
Walker knows that this is now Jayson Tatum’s team. Hell, some nights it’s Jaylen Brown’s team.
And Walker has enjoyed every second of that.
“Tatum’s a superstar,” Walker said during the C’s playoff run. “He’s been showing it night-in, night-out. He just makes the right reads, man. He’s a special talent. As well as Jaylen. Jaylen’s a superstar as well. Those two guys are phenomenal basketball players. I love being around those two guys, I love the way they play basketball, I love how much they love the game of basketball. It’s just really fun to be around those guys. Really, really special dudes.”
(God, what a refreshing change from the poisonous, team-wide ‘gimme the ball’ hell of two years ago.)
Tatum, whose NBA intro came with Kyrie as his point guard, has also praised Kemba during their time together, even noting that the two were “really close.” (May I mention that we’re rapidly approaching the point of Tatum’s career where the Celtics need to make sure he’s happy and with players he likes? Because we definitely are.)
And despite any rumors that suggest otherwise, Ainge is talking like someone who wants Walker to remain in Boston.
“We have to make sure we have three more years with Kemba, at least,” Ainge said Wednesday. “And we’re excited about those three years. He’s a terrific player.”
Just add that to the list of reasons why Walker’s gotta stay with the Green.