Walking through Uptown Charlotte during NBA All-Star Weekend and seeing Kemba Walker plastered on buildings, light rail stations, buses and benches put into perspective what the three-time All-Star means to the Queen City. But will he stay?
Walker dazzled throughout the regular season as he averaged a career-high 25.6 points, 5.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals. The Bronx, N.Y. native has played out the final year of his contract with the Charlotte Hornets. The two sides have not agreed on an extension. Therefore, he will be a free agent once NBA free agency begins on July 1.
Walker was drafted by the Hornets in 2011, after leading the UConn Huskies to an NCAA National Championship. He has been a part of the Hornets organization for the last eight years, but his time with the team may come to an end if he decides to leave in free agency. Walker making All-NBA makes him eligible for a supermax contract that would be worth up to $221 million over a five-year span.
The Hornets have the cap space and money to offer Walker a supermax contract, but does he want to remain in Charlotte? At the end of the regular season, Walker told media that he had “no idea” concerning his future with the team. However, the point guard has become a hero in Charlotte, even being one of 10 finalists for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award last year.
A lot of Hornet season ticket holders, and fans overall, attend games because of Walker. If he walks out the front door, will the ticket sales decline? A decline in attendance decreases fan and team morale, which can put any professional sports team in purgatory.
Hornet’s general manager Mitch Kupchak certainly wants Walker back with the team and has expressed his desire to keep him.
“We’ll do everything that we can to bring him back here,” said Kupchak.
The Hornets have been in the NBA Draft Lottery seven out of the last eight seasons. Since Walker’s been here, the team has picked in the top 14 of the draft. Meanwhile, they’ve made only the two postseason appearances since he’s been on the team.
Even with the lack of playoff success, Walker is still arguably the Hornets best player ever and is the franchise’s leading scorer with 9,907 total points. Walker leaving Charlotte is a divorce that could be detrimental to basketball in the Queen City, and with the Panthers also not making the playoffs last season, professional sports in Charlotte seem to be on a decline.
In 2016, Walker wrote The Players’ Tribune article “How I Can Help.” There, he shared his thoughts on being more than a basketball player.
“When you play in the NBA, you’re not just a basketball player. We do so much more than simply play basketball. We spend time working in our communities, and the league does a great job of providing us with public service opportunities,” he said.
Walker is more than a basketball player to Charlotte, and his upcoming decision will be pivotal for the city, regardless of whether he stays or goes.
Jonathan Limehouse is a journalist whose passion is to find good and impactful stories. He’s an avid sports fan who can be found at numerous sporting events around Charlotte.