The Kemba Walker era has reached its end in OKC.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported this morning that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Walker had reached an agreement on a buyout. Walker would proceed to sign an $8 million deal with the New York Knicks.
Four-time All-Star guard Kemba Walker has agreed to a contract buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and upon clearing waivers, plans to sign with the New York Knicks, sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 4, 2021
Walker was on a 2-year, $73 million contract with the Thunder, but it is currently unknown how much he gave back to the team to make this buyout work.
It looks like Thunder GM Sam Presti has finally met his match in flipping bad contracts for assets. The streak ends at four players, with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Al Horford deemed negative value assets that were turned into draft capital.
This buyout continues the new, long tradition of Presti landing star players to their preferred destination. Other examples include Russell Westbrook going to the Houston Rockets, Paul George going to the LA Clippers, Chris Paul going to the Phoenix Suns, and Al Horford returning to the Boston Celtics.
Hopefully, this show of good faith will be worth it when the team is contending again and is looking into adding outside talent to improve its team. Building up a good rapport with agents will help increase OKC’s odds of adding good players in Free Agency in the future.
It seems like there was not much of a trade market for Walker this offseason as his high salary and troubling knee issues —The 31-year-old needed to inject stem cells this past season— worried potential teams.
All potential suitors with cap space that could have absorbed Walker’s contract quickly found alternatives for their point guard spot at the beginning of Free Agency. The Miami Heat landed Kyle Lowry, the New Orleans Pelicans landed Devonte’ Graham, the Knicks landed Evan Fournier, the Chicago Bulls landed DeMar DeRozan.
Finding a potential trade partner, this offseason quickly became unrealistic for the Thunder. So they were left to either play Walker this season and rehab his value or bite the bullet and take a buyout. OKC chose the latter, and for a good reason.
The team suddenly has many young guard talent in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Theo Maledon, Tre Mann, and Ty Jerome. Playing Walker major minutes for the sake of trying to rehab his value to get something back did not seem to be worth the cause.
The team prioritized player development over a potential trade piece — as they should. Another good part about this trade is that Walker will not help this team win games. They will now get a chance to organically tank as their roster is filled with young, undeveloped, and inexperienced players.
It’s a shame that Presti couldn’t find a trade partner for Walker, but this was the right call to make. Walker playing for the Thunder would have been an awkward fit and situation. And with a team looking to develop players, any off-court distractions could have been a detriment, especially avoidable ones like this.
I will hold judgment on this transaction until the buyout details are confirmed. But if this is a straight-up buyout instead of a stretch and waive, then the two-year hit is worth it over having Walker on the books over several seasons, especially if the Thunder are looking to contend shortly.
The Knicks now get a former All-Star guard who shows he can still contribute to winning teams when on the court. Despite playing just 43 games last season, Walker averaged 19.3 points on 55.9 TS%. A big reason why the Knicks’ season ended in five games to the Atlanta Hawks in the First Round of the playoffs is that their offense dried up quickly. Walker should help fix some of those issues if he can stay on the court.