Four-star goalie Kemba Walker and the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to a contract buyout on Wednesday morning, paving the way for the New York icon to sign with his hometown of New York Knicks, sources said to Adrian Wojnarowski from ESPN.
Thunder chief executive Sam Presti and Walker’s agents with Excel Sports Management, Jeff Schwartz and Javon Phillips, worked to reach an agreement on a two-year buyout and the remaining $ 74 million on Walker’s contract. He can now fit into New York’s remaining roughly $ 10 million, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
The Thunder acquired Walker, 31, from the Boston Celtics in June in what was Brad Stevens’ first major move after he went from being the team’s coach to replacing Danny Ainge as president. of basketball operations, earning the 16th pick in the NBA Draft last week. while moving from center Al Horford in this deal.
Oklahoma City, which amassed a treasure trove of first-round picks over the next several years, then turned that 16th pick – one of three in this year’s draft – into two more futures when the Houston Rockets acquired the selection for. take the Turkish center Alperen Sengun.
Now the Thunder can use the location created by Walker’s departure to give playtime to his fleet of Young Guards as they continue to rebuild. Aspiring star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander agreed to a maximum five-year extension earlier this week, sources told Wojnarowski, while the Thunder also made Lu Dort one of the league’s top defensive guards and has Drafted Josh Giddey and Tre Mann in the first round last week. They also have Theo Maledon, a second-round pick in last year’s draft.
Walker, meanwhile, is now returning home to New York, where he first played at Rice High School – where he once played against new teammate Derrick Rose, and then with Chicago’s Simeon High School at Madison Square. Garden. He then built his legend as one of the greatest players in the history of the University of Connecticut’s legendary program by leading the Huskies to five wins in five days for the Big East tournament title at MSG in 2011. – to then continue by leading Connecticut to its third NCAA title.
Now he’s going to be able to continue that story at MSG with the Knicks, with whom he should fit right into the starting lineup as a significant upgrade over his predecessor, Elfrid Payton, and alongside fellow newcomer. of the Knicks and former Celtics teammate Evan Fournier in New York’s backcourt. The Knicks will look to Walker and Fournier to bolster an offense that suffered tremendously in New York’s five-game loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Celtics traded Walker to the Thunder as part of a pivot to create salary cap flexibility in 2022, as well as to better balance a roster that had swung heavily in the direction of spending resources on perimeter players two years ago. only after signing him for a four-year maximum contract of $ 141 million after Walker spent his first eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets.
Walker, who made the All-Star team in his first season in Boston, spent last season on a plan to manage his left knee, which has caused him problems for most of the calendar year. 2020. He went on a 12-week knee strengthening program after helping Boston reach the Eastern Conference Finals in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Fla. – a plan that lasted until the start. of last season when the NBA unexpectedly started earlier than he and the Celtics had anticipated.
Still, when Walker returned to the field, he continued to be an effective player for the Celtics, averaging 19.3 points and 4.9 assists in 43 games. He then missed the final two games of Boston’s first-round loss of the series to the Brooklyn Nets with a bone contusion in the same left knee, an injury unrelated to his previous issues.
“It’s tough,” Walker said of having to watch the playoffs after Boston’s 123-109 loss to Brooklyn in Game 5. “It was really tough, especially because during my career, i played so many games when i was healthy.
“I came to Boston to be a part of these special races and be part of the high intensity games and the fans going wild, and unfortunately I couldn’t be a part of it. Just try to do well. I have to be right. . “
Now he will have the chance to do it in his hometown.