Charlotte Hornets

Answering Hornets questions: You can love Kemba, but is it worth the risk to keep him?

Stephen Curry: Kemba has become a premiere player in Charlotte

Stephen Curry says that Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker has become a premiere player for the team. Curry had high praise for Walker following the 2019 All-Star game at Spectrum Center where the two were teammates on Team Giannis.
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Stephen Curry says that Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker has become a premiere player for the team. Curry had high praise for Walker following the 2019 All-Star game at Spectrum Center where the two were teammates on Team Giannis.

It’s possible to love all Kemba Walker does for the Charlotte Hornets and still have concerns about the long-term ramifications of him receiving a massive, new five-year contract.

I’ve thought about this topic for a while, so I’m glad I got a question for this week’s mailbag as a leaping-off point for discussion. No matter how the Hornets respond to All-Star point guard Walker reaching unrestricted free agency in July, there is considerable risk.

Not re-signing him, and you lose the best player this franchise has had since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004. Re-sign him - at a cost that could exceed $150 million - and you are making a massive bet on both his longevity and the front office’s ability to surround him with enough talent to start winning playoff series.

So, on to that question:

Q. Regarding Walker and his upcoming contract, many use his age against him, that he’ll be a 34-year-old point guard on a max deal and at the end (of his career). Why?

A. Walker turns 29 in May, but I don’t think age is the best term to discuss this risk-reward balance. It’s more about mileage, Walker’s body type and the massive price the franchise likely must pay to retain him.

I love watching Kemba play, not just because of his talent but because of his passion. I think he’s been way underpaid in recent seasons, but there is no villain in that dynamic. He chose the security of that 4-year, $48 million contract in October 2014. Now, it’s likely the Hornets (or some other NBA team) will pay him in the vicinity of $30 million a season.

In his eighth NBA season, Walker has already logged nearly 20,000 minutes. He’s about 6-feet tall and has to be a human pinball to excel at his job. He has been durable (79 or more regular-season games the prior three seasons), but no one knows when all the mileage will start diminishing his prime.

I don’t think it’s insulting to Walker for anyone, whether it be owner Michael Jordan, general manager Mitch Kupchak or an average season-ticket holder, to wonder how long Walker will continue to play at an All-Star level. In fact, I think it would be irresponsible of Kupchak not to constantly ask himself those cost-effectiveness questions.

Q. What is your opinion on Jeremy Lamb still being here? Should a team that might max out at 38 wins (this season) have gotten something for him?

A. Depends on what that “something” “would have been. I defer to the expertise of former Brooklyn Nets executive Bobby Marks, who now writes for ESPN. Marks said before the trade deadline he questioned whether another team would have given the Hornets a first-round pick for Lamb, who becomes an unrestricted free agent in July. Marks was talking about circumstance, not Lamb’s season - that in a worst-case scenario, a team acquiring Lamb would have had him for only the rest of this season.

Let’s say the best the Hornets could have gotten for Lamb is a second-round pick. I wouldn’t have given him up over the last 30 games, plus a possible playoff appearance, for that.

Q. If Lamb leaves in the off-season, how ready would Dwayne Bacon be to contribute next season?

A. Former second-round pick Bacon would provide inexpensive depth at the wing positions next season at about $2 million. However, I would not assume Bacon is the first option to pick up Lamb’s minutes if he’s playing elsewhere next season. Lamb and Malik Monk went into the preseason competing for the starting shooting guard spot, so you’d assume Monk would get the first shot at starting next season. Also, the Hornets figure to want to feature Miles Bridges more next season.

Even without Lamb, the Hornets would still have a lot of options at the wing positions of shooting guard and small forward.

Q. Do you think James Borrego has settled on a rotation?

A. Yes, to the extent first-season coach Borrego will ever have a settled rotation this season. I think Borrego did a lot of experimentation early with a group that was new to him. I think he now knows his players better, which leads to a little more rotation clarity.

But Borrego - and this is partially the influence of his mentor, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich - is always going to be improvisational with playing time game-to-game, and I have no problem with that.

Q. What do you think happens with Frank Kaminsky?

A. This is just an educated guess, but Kaminsky giving up some guaranteed money to become a mid-season free agent (called a ‘’buyout” in NBA terms) only makes sense if he knows another NBA team would sign him and make him whole financially for what he’d give up.

In the absence of that, not a lot figures to change the rest of the season unless some other Hornets center gets hurt.

Q. What is your take on neither Monk, nor Bridges, getting selected for the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend?

A. It’s important to remember the Rising Stars game is no longer a squad of rookies versus a squad of second-season players. It’s a mix of those two classes in a U.S.-versus-World format. I wasn’t surprised Monk or Bridges wasn’t included on the U.S. squad.

Q. What do you think are the chances of Stephen Curry playing for the Hornets at the end of his career?

A. That’s possible, but I doubt Curry would be a Hornet while still in his prime, so it might not be of any consequence. Former Davidson star Curry loves Charlotte, but he’s now so tied to the Northern California’s Bay Area and his net worth is so great that I don’t know what purpose it would serve for him to play elsewhere way past his prime. He certainly won’t need the paychecks.

Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.

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