Charlotte Hornets majority owner Michael Jordan said Monday night he’s not looking to trade point guard Kemba Walker, and would do so only if the return included a major All-Star, such as the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. In an exclusive telephone interview with the Charlotte Observer, following the Hornets’ 112-107 home victory over the Sacramento Kings, Jordan said he’s disappointed with his team’s 19-26 start, but has not given up on the chances of reaching the playoffs this season. The Hornets have the 12th-highest payroll in the NBA this season at more than $116 million, and Jordan had aspirations for the team to earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
More on Kemba Walker Trade?
Jordan acknowledged there have been discussions with other teams, some initiated by the Hornets’ front office, but that he isn’t looking to lose Walker, clearly the team’s most talented and productive player and an All-Star last season.
“We bred him, we chose him, we groomed him to be a good player for us,” Jordan said of Walker, who the Hornets drafted ninth overall in 2011, to a great extent because Jordan saw traits in Walker that reminded him of his own playing career. “I’m not looking to trade Kemba, but I would listen to opportunities.”
Jordan said he reached out to Walker Friday, after these reports became public, to reassure Walker the Hornets are not predisposed to moving him. “Obviously, the season has been a disappointment so far, and there have been teams asking about players. Also, we’ve been asking about players,” Jordan said, with the NBA’s trade deadline looming Feb. 8. “We ask teams who they like on our roster and they always say Kemba.
The Charlotte Hornets would like engage the Knicks on trade discussions involving All-Star point guard Kemba Walker but New York and Charlotte haven't yet had substantive discussions about a trade involving Walker, per league sources. It seems unlikely at this point that the Knicks will want to meet Charlotte's desired return. Charlotte is hoping a Walker trade returns a good young player or a first-round pick, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The Knicks have first-round draft picks and a promising young player in Frank Ntilikina. But the other part of Charlotte's request is a holdup for the Knicks. Wojnarowski reports that Charlotte appears eager to shed one of its less desirable contracts. That would mean the Knicks would likely need to take on extra salary to acquire Walker, which was something New York was hesitant to do in trading Carmelo Anthony over the summer.
Since the NBA returned to Charlotte in 2004, no player has been more synonymous with pro basketball here than point guard Kemba Walker. For the first time in Walker’s six-plus seasons in the Queen City, that relationship appears in jeopardy. In a lengthy and emotional interview following practice Friday, Walker expressed how knitted he is to Charlotte, to the Hornets and particularly to coach Steve Clifford. “That’s my guy. It’s gotten to be bigger than basketball with me and Cliff,” Walker said of his coach the past four-plus seasons. We’ve gotten along from Day 1. I love the way he coaches us - the enthusiasm and the passion he has for the game. It rubs off on people. It has definitely rubbed off on me. He has turned me into a whole different player and person.”
A source familiar with the situation said so far the Hornets’ discussions with other teams involving Kemba Walker have been more exploratory than necessarily on a fast track to a deal. In order to trade away this team’s best and most marketable player, the Hornets would probably have to accomplish at least two agendas: Attach a trade for Walker to discarding a problematic contract (Nicolas Batum’s five-season, $120 million deal, for instance), plus acquire assets in the form of one or more young prospects and/or first-round picks.
Walker did his best to stay composed during post-practice media Friday, but he said it would be devastating to be traded out of Charlotte. “This is the first time I’ve been in this kind of situation,” Walker said of the trade chatter. I’ve been here for the last seven years, and I’m going to do what I can do to help my team win games. That’s all I can do.” And if the Hornets sent him packing? “I’d be pretty upset,” said Walker, who is about 800 points away from supplanting Dell Curry as the all-time career scorer in Charlotte NBA history. “I have put my heart and soul into this city.”
While the Knicks are in a developmental mode with rookie project point guard Frank Ntilikina as one of the centerpieces of their rebuilding plan, an All-Star point guard hailing from New York has come on the trade market in Kemba Walker. The Hornets, faced with luxury-tax issues, want to shed Walker’s contract as they are not even in the playoff hunt, ESPN.com reports. An NBA source, despite speculation linking the Knicks and Walker, told The Post the club has not made contact with Charlotte about Walker to date.
One thought — if the Knicks get into the sweepstakes — is giving up their 2019 first-round pick along with Ntilikina in hopes of Charlotte taking on the remaining years of Joakim Noah’s contract. (The Hornets can always use the stretch provision on Noah after the season). Another NBA source added that the Hornets will be asking teams to take back one of their larger contracts like, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, making a Knicks’ match even more unlikely.
Reporter: Do you think it's gonna be hard for you to function between now and Feb. 8th (trade deadline)? Kemba Walker: "No, I'm a pro, man. This is what I do. I play basketball and I go hard each and every day regardless of what's going on in my life (...) If anything I'd rather be playing than just sitting around. Basketball is what helps me cope with anything, so no, it won't be a problem at all."
Kemba Walker would look great in a Detroit Pistons uniform. But is the Charlotte Hornets star point guard worth the price? A person with firsthand knowledge of the situation indicated the Pistons are indeed interested in Walker, who reportedly has been made available by the Hornets.
Overloaded with bad contracts and untradable assets, the Charlotte Hornets have made All-Star point guard Kemba Walker available in trade discussions, league sources told ESPN.
Chris Kroeger: Spoke to Kemba and Cliff about this last week. Cliff: "I'd be shocked if he didn't want to be here. I've been around long enough to know you never say never, but I just can't see a scenario where that plays out." twitter.com/wojespn/status…
Steve Kyler: At this point I was told odds of a Kemba trade so low not worth speculating. He is eligible for a Max extension this summer. Thats when Hornets make a decision.
The Michael Jordan-owned Hornets are going nowhere. Yet we advise you to track them at least through the Feb. 8 trade deadline because Charlotte will probably be forced to consider dealing Kemba Walker. If Walker stays, Jordan risks losing his best player without compensation in the summer of 2019 — or, perhaps worse, paying big bucks to hang on to him instead of starting an overdue tear-down of a pricey but mediocre roster.
Chris Kroeger: Steve Clifford on Kemba trade rumors: "I'd be shocked if he didn't want to be here. I mean...he's building a house here right now... I've been around long enough to know you never say never, but I just can't see a scenario where that plays out." #Hornets #BuzzCity
So what if Charlotte traded Walker to begin to ease its financial burdens, as well as to jump-start a rebuild? Say, for example, Walker was shipped to his hometown New York Knicks, along with Williams, for rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina, Joakim Noah and New York’s 2018 first-round pick. That would save Charlotte about $4 million next season while giving it an intriguing young point guard to install as Walker’s successor. It would also help Charlotte’s first-round pick move into the top five in the lottery, giving the team a chance to land a star in a top-heavy draft, as well as another pick in the middle of the round.