All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker has told the Charlotte Hornets he intends to sign with the Boston Celtics once free-agent contracts are allowed July 6, multiple sources told the Observer.
Walker, a three-time All-Star, is the Hornets’ all-time leading scorer. Though the Hornets could have paid him as much as $221 million over five years, the most the team decided it could justify was less than $170 million. That was due to concerns about paying future the NBA luxury tax, which is the league’s penalty on bloated payrolls.
Walker will be leaving for a Celtics team expected to lose point guard Kyrie Irving in free agency, possibly to the Brooklyn Nets. The most the Celtics, or any other NBA team, can pay him is $140 million over four years. The Celtics are also losing center Al Horford in free agency and have the flexibility to create a maximum-salary slot for Walker.
Actual free-agent negotiations can’t begin before 6 p.m. ET Sunday. The Celtics’ pursuit of Walker was first reported by the New York Times’ Marc Stein mid-week. Two sources confirmed to the Observer the Celtics’ interest in Walker, who played college ball in New England, leading Connecticut to the 2011 national championship.
After that championship run, the Hornets drafted Walker ninth in the 2011 draft.
The Celtics signing Walker means the Hornets will likely lose him without compensation. Sign-and-trade deals, which could have gotten the Hornets something, were limited in the NBA’s last collective bargaining agreement.
The Hornets are now particularly hurting for point guards. Future Hall of Famer Tony Parker, who played last season for the Hornets as Walker’s backup, announced he’s retiring. The only point guard on the roster currently is Devonte Graham, a second-round pick out of Kansas a year ago.
Walker signing with the Celtics would open the free agency of another Boston point guard, Terry Rozier. But it’s unclear how the Hornets will look to fill the roster.
His departure will likely set off a radical rebuild of the Hornets’ roster, the second in the decade Michael Jordan has owned the team. The team went 7-59 in 2011-12 season, the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
With or without Walker, the Hornets are hamstrung by their player payroll. They are already committed to about $101 million in guaranteed salaries. The NBA salary cap next season is projected to be $109 million for teams, and the luxury tax threshold will be about $132 million.