Three points on Kemba Walker’s free agency
The Charlotte Hornets are completing a sign-and-trade that will replace Kemba Walker at point guard with former Boston Celtic Terry Rozier.
The deal will salvage something from All-NBA point guard Walker’s departure for the Celtics. Rozier, who backed up Kyrie Irving last season, enters his fifth NBA season. He’s made just 30 NBA starts but played in 159 of a possible 164 games for the Celtics the past two seasons.
A league source confirmed the deal Sunday evening, the official start of NBA free-agent negotiations. Shams Charania of The Athletic first reported that Rozier had agreed to become a Hornet.
Rozier will sign a three-year deal with the Celtics, worth $58 million guaranteed, that will immediately be dealt to the Hornets once contracts can be signed on July 6.
Rozier averaged nine points, 2.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds last season on a team dominated at his position by Irving, who is moving on to the Brooklyn Nets. The most common critique about the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Rozier is his shooting: 38 percent from the field for his career and he has never reached 40 percent in any of his four NBA seasons.
The Hornets needed to solidify point guard with Walker leaving. The Hornets lost last season’s backup when veteran Tony Parker announced his retirement. That left them with only Devonte Graham, a second-round rookie last season. Graham showed promise in last season’s final dozen games, taking Parker’s minutes, but it would have been a leap to count on him as the projected starter in 2019-20.
The question, though, is the price the Hornets are paying for Rozier in both average salary ($19.3 million) and guaranteed years. There is a huge premium on the point guard position in the NBA, so $19 million is typical for a projected starter. However, the Hornets are making a major investment on a 25-year-old guard who is relatively small and untested as an NBA starter.
The Hornets will be over the salary cap next season, but should have access to two cap exceptions that would allow them to sign players making first-year salaries of up to $9.3 million and $3.6 million.
However, the Hornets have no intention of allowing the payroll to exceed the NBA’s luxury-tax threshold this season of $132.6 million. Avoiding the luxury tax was a major factor in the Hornets not re-signing Walker, their all-time scorer.
The Hornets have also lost their second-leading scorer from last season: Multiple reports have Jeremy Lamb signing with the Indiana Pacers for three years and $31.5 million. The financial implications of the Rozier contract made it a practical impossibility to re-sign Lamb, who averaged 15.3 points last season.
With Lamb gone, competition for shooting guard minutes should come down to Dwayne Bacon, Malik Monk and Nic Batum.