Walker is one of the most unappreciated players in the league for the past few years. Let’s be honest, if I asked you to rank players from the Eastern Conference, would Kemba crack your top 10? Top 15? This is a consequence of a few things.
Firstly, it is because he is in Charlotte. Not the most coveted media market, the population of Charlotte is 859,035 (17th), and the urban area is at 1,249,442 (38th). Then take into account that they have an NFL team that is the dominant sports franchise in the state (same problems the Pelicans have in New Orleans). So, not a lot of attention for Kemba. Then look at the team itself. Owner/GM Jordan is nowhere near the player Jordan. Here are their first-round draft picks since they selected Kemba in 2011: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2nd/2012), Cody Zeller (4th/2013), Noah Vonleh (9th/2013), Frank Kaminsky (9th/2014), Malik Monk (11th/2017). All lottery picks, none of them is really a starter, let alone something more. Here are some of the players they could’ve drafted in those drafts: Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Steven Adams, Giannis, Dario Šarić, Jusuf Nurkić, Myles Turner, Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, OG Anunoby. The draft always has a bit of luck to it, a lot of teams passed on many of these players, but when compared as a cumulative, it’s easy to determine the Hornets did not draft well.
Secondly, Kemba has been playing in a very deep point guard era. Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas were East All-Star point guards from the East during his career. Then we have the West: Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, and Russell Westbrook. So Kemba was barely cracking the top 10 of point guards in the NBA. Being on a weaker team and having so much competition leads to us underappreciating him. Just because there are so many players who you may consider better does not mean Kemba isn’t fantastic – he is.
Thirdly, except for the beginning of this season, Kemba never had a flashy improvement year. He is a perfect example of a player that’s been improving slightly year-by-year. Check out his Basketball-Reference page. Under the radar, Kemba has become a legit max-contract guy. He barely missed any games in the past three seasons and is severely underpaid. He is on a final season of a 4 year/$48 million contract. This just makes the franchise failure worse. NFL teams nowadays dream of drafting a great QB and building around him while he is on a rookie scale contract. The same pressure is now in Philly; building a contender while Ben Simmons is underpaid. Having such a player like Kemba on $12 million per year for the past four years and barely making the playoffs in the East is terrible mismanagement.
So, when Kemba hits free agency this summer, the smart move is to leave, right? They obviously don’t know how to build a contender behind him. Well, not quite. First of all, they can offer him more money than anyone else. A lot more money. They can offer him $220 million over five years if he makes the All-Star team this year; if not, $189 million over five years. The most he could get from anyone else is a four year 139 million dollars.
Then, Kemba has repeatedly expressed his love of Charlotte and pointed out playing in a big market doesn’t mean so much to him. He appreciates the loyalty and support he got from the Hornets, and Kemba indeed seems like a guy that values this a lot. Yet, if he wants to win, can he do it in Charlotte?
LA has the weather and Hollywood, NYC is the city that never sleeps, bit Charlotte has MJ. As much as he hasn’t performed as a GM, you still get a meeting with Jordan wanting you on his team. When asked about being around him “To this day, it’s still surreal to me, and I’ve been around him for eight years now.” This quote comes from The Jump where Kemba also shared the best advice he got from Jordan:
Really, just to be myself, which I’ve need that a few times over the course of my career. Early on in my career, when I first came in. Trying not to step on anybody’s toes, work my way in. He pulled me to the side and was like “I’ve drafted you for a reason. Come in and be yourself.”
So what will the kid from the Bronx decide? The Hornets have not been competitive, and he’s got his prime ahead of him. They can offer money and tradition of supporting him (something he values a lot). On the other hand, joining forces with another superstar will help his ambition to compete and help him raise his profile.
Whatever his decision may be, one thing is for sure. Whenever you make a list of players with sick handles, Kemba should be in your top tier, right next to Kyrie and Steph.