NBA rumors: Mavericks targeting Kemba, Middleton in free agency?

More on Kemba Walker Free Agency

Ask people in the NBA which teams might come after Walker, and the responses are what you'd expect: The Knicks, especially if Irving remains in Boston. The Lakers, who will be desperate to surround LeBron with talent and might be stuck choosing between second-tier stars like Walker, Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins. There are whispers around the NBA that the Mavericks are intrigued by Walker, but it's hard to discern where that rumor arose and if it's anything more than another game of NBA telephone.
Contradictory as it sounds, Walker being named All-NBA could be detrimental to the Hornets. "They're fucked either way," is how three (!) different NBA front-office people described the situation. Let Walker go, and, as one scout said, "They'd be like an expansion team." Ink him to the supermax and Charlotte would be diving into dangerous waters. As great as Walker is, he's proved that he's not capable of carrying a team deep into the playoffs on his own. He'll also turn 29 in May, bringing him right up to the age where players often begin declining. "It'd be like the John Wall deal," one front-office person said. "They should have traded him last year, when his value was high. They could have just reset."
The contract would also push the Hornets right up to the tax line, a threshold team owner Michael Jordan has always avoided crossing. In other words, signing Walker would force the Hornets to run the same group back next year. "They'd be saddling themselves up to mediocrity for years," one of the front-office people said. The only path out of NBA purgatory would be Walker remaining healthy, promising prospect Miles Bridges continuing to develop, and Charlotte finding Walker a worthy No. 2 next summer, when the weighty contracts of Marvin Williams, Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ($45 million in total cap space) come off the books. "The surrounding pieces aren't so bad," another of the front-office people said. "They just need another guy in there so they can all slide down a role."
Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker also has fans in the Knicks organization. Multiple executives doing their homework on the free agent class, though, fully expect Durant to sign with the Knicks and Irving to join him.
The Charlotte Hornets had a chance to swing the table and prove to Kemba Walker they’re capable of acquiring talent by trading for Marc Gasol. Yet when a potential deal slipped from their grip, the Hornets star was deflated to see he would no longer be getting help to chase a spot in the postseason. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski detailed the incident in The Woj Pod: “I got the sense in talking to people, that trade deadline really deflated him,” Wojnarowski said of Walker. “When they were pretty close on a Marc Gasol deal, and it fell apart. It didn’t happen. He goes to Toronto. And he looks around and goes, “Come on, what are we trying to do here?”
Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak offered two absolutes Friday concerning Kemba Walker’s free-agency: that Walker is a “once-in-a-generation kind of player” and that “we’ll do everything we can to bring him back here.” ... Sure, Walker wants to get paid. But lots of other NBA teams can do that, too. He wants proof the Hornets will surround him with enough talent to win sooner than later. That hasn’t happened in Walker’s eight seasons in Charlotte and there are three months left to demonstrate progress.
I asked Kupchak how he felt about Walker saying Thursday that winning will weigh heavily in his free-agency, and that he expects the Hornets are addressing that. Kupchak said he wants all the players — not just Walker — to make winning their imperative. “Kemba has been here eight years now; he has made the playoffs twice. That is not what he wants to do,” Kupchak replied. “Yeah, there is a sense of urgency. That’s my job.”
Seven months later, his intent sounded far less resolute regarding his upcoming free agency. “I’m not sure yet,” Walker said Wednesday night, when I asked if he’s still predisposed to staying with the franchise that drafted him back in 2011. “I don’t know. “I have a long time to even start thinking about that stuff. Me and my agent will get together. Me and my family, we’ll discuss that stuff when the time is right.”
In the meantime, Charlotte has won three straight – including yesterday’s big victory over the Pistons – to remain in the playoff race. Walker insists he’s focused on finishing this season strong, not setting up his next contract. “There’s no way I could play basketball thinking about those kind of things,” Walker said. “You know what I mean? Yeah, I just can’t. I just can’t go on the court thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get 30 because I need to.’ I just can’t think about those kind of things. I mean, I see it, hear about it. But it’s nothing that comes to my attention too much.”
But rumors are already swirling about Walker leaving Charlotte. No clear destinations have emerged, though the Mavericks are reportedly interested. That opens the door for many fan bases to view landing Walker as realistic. Don’t rule out the Hornets, either. “This is the team that believed in me from day one,” Walker said. “So, of course. They’re always going to be on top of the list.”
Jordan knows this. That’s why he refused all offers this deadline and wasn’t interested in 2018 when the Hornets reportedly listened to offers. Jordan loves Walker as a person and player, league sources have repeatedly said, and that’s the primary reason Jordan wants to keep him. But he also knows that without Walker, the Hornets have nothing else.
Threats to sign Kemba Walker away from the Charlotte Hornets this summer? Place this team at the top of your list: The Dallas Mavericks. Two sources with knowledge of the Mavericks’ thinking expect Walker, the Hornets’ three-time All-Star point guard, to be that team’s top target when NBA free-agency begins July 1.
Walker hasn’t spoken at length about free-agency since late September, the day before Hornets training camp began in Chapel Hill. That day, Walker said he intended to re-sign with the Hornets. (Under salary-cap rules, there is no practical way for the Hornets to sign Walker to a new market-value contract until his current contract expires).
“It’s great for the city, great for the community,” Walker told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m excited. This city is excited. It’s about time we got an event like this here in Charlotte. “Charlotte means a lot to me. This city has embraced me – allowed me to be who I am, allowed me to grow as a man. I just love the city. This team drafted me, believed in me when I was young.”
Walker will hit unrestricted free agency for the first time. “I don’t know how it goes,” he said. “Me and my agent will sit down and get it right.” It appears he has plans to stay. He recently bought land on which to build a home outside of Charlotte. “I feel like it’s a normal life for me,” Walker said. “I’m never overwhelmed here whenever I do want to get out of the house – walk around, walk around the mall, be me. That’s what I love the most.”
With that in mind, Johnson himself was not having it when he was asked about Kemba Walker by a reporter at an event leading up to NBA All-Star Weekend (via Carolina Blitz): Reporter: I have a question I have to ask you about Kemba Walker-- Magic: “You know I can’t answer any questions about no players, because every time I do, I get fined, but anybody else do it, they don’t get fined. So I’m gonna stay away from that one.”
Rick Bonnell: Per @Shams Charania the Mavs inquired with the Hornets about Kemba and were told no interest in moving him. Further evidence the intent is to ride this out to July and re-sign him.
Walker prefers it this way. On the court, his game is the embodiment of the New York City product he is, full of pull-ups, hesitations, crossovers and dimes. Off the court, he would rather be as he is now, in a familiar setting and out of the spotlight. "I love it," he said of Charlotte during a conversation the previous week before repeating himself for emphasis. "I love it. It's perfect for me. The pace of the city is pretty slow, which I love. It's not fast-paced like New York. ... I'm able to just live pretty much a normal life. I'm able to go out and eat and not really be bothered. Go to the mall and walk around, not really be bothered. That's what I like, personally. That's the kind of life I like to live."
Walker has given every indication he enjoys Charlotte and prefers forming a long-term partnership with the Hornets. He signed his expiring deal in a different NBA economic climate. But the fact that he is the 21st-highest-paid point guard in the league, behind the likes of Brandon Knight, Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson, according to Spotrac, likely isn't lost on him. "Kemba is a bit of a mellow guy, and I think he likes the laid-back attitude of the city," said Jeff Schwartz, Walker's agent. "I think he's just really comfortable. Think about where Kemba grew up. He grew up in New York, and Charlotte is really different. I think Kemba is completely comfortable in New York, but from a lifestyle and growing up and becoming an adult and having a life outside of the gym, I just think he's really comfortable. I think it's symbiotic with the way Charlotte has treated him and the way he reacts to Charlotte."
Hornets star Kemba Walker says he has talked to general manager Mitch Kupchak about what Charlotte has in store for roster upgrades but that he wasn't getting involved beyond that, signaling he will take a wait-and-see approach to his free agency this summer. "They know. They know what they got to do," Walker said in an appearance on ESPN's The Jump that aired Tuesday. "That's not my job. I'll leave it up to those guys. "We have Mitch now, who's a great guy who's done a great job at building teams over his GM career," Walker added, referring to the former longtime Lakers executive who joined the Hornets last April. "And I have a lot of trust in him. So, you know, we talk all the time. Who knows?"
Walker still wasn't overly confident about sitting down to the negotiating table with Kupchak and Hornets owner Michael Jordan. "I don't know what I'm going to say to the GOAT," said a laughing Walker, who in his eighth season with Charlotte is the franchise's all-time leading scorer. "We're going to see."
Walker was most pleased with the final quarter, in which he didn’t step on the floor. He didn’t offer any hints of his future plans, saying he’s focused on the Hornets’ season and leading them back to the playoffs after two straight seasons in the lottery. “I have no idea. I’m in the season right now,” he said. “Whenever the time comes, it comes.”
“I’ve been hearing it for years now, the Knicks,” Walker said then. “Every time I come home, it’s ‘When are you coming home to the Knicks?’ MSG is a special place, man. The Knicks are a special team. Of course, I’ve been a Knicks fan growing up, always rooted for the home team. But I really can’t see myself in a Knicks jersey — only because I’ve been in one jersey. I really don’t know.”
What more can he say at this point? What more can he do to back it up? In the past two games Walker has compiled 103 points on 35-of-59 shooting. He is the NBA’s scoring leader at 29.6 points per game. He is playing at a level where hearing an “MVP” chant in the fourth quarter didn’t feel contrived. He knows you love him, Charlotte. And he loves you back. “I think they know,” Walker said of his affection and attachment to his team and his town. “I’ve said it so many times. The way I play each and every night, I leave it all on the court. That’s for this organization and for this city. “So, yeah, that’s how I show it.”
According to Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic, Jordan is "hellbent" on keeping Walker in a Hornets uniform even though he is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Charania went on to note the Hornets "still want to build their franchise around" the dynamic playmaker who poured in 60 points in Saturday's overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
I’m also intrigued by the fate of Kemba Walker, who is in the final year of his contract. Walker is building a home in Charlotte and said he wants to “create something special” with the Hornets. But if Charlotte doesn’t want to risk losing him for nothing next summer, perhaps a trade is in its best interest.
You said when you arrived here that Kemba Walker would be a “focal point” of this team moving forward. Can you definitively say he’s off the trading block now, that he’s not going anywhere? Mitch Kupchak: He’s a free agent this year, so I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say with the league. But our intention is for him to end his career in a Hornet uniform. It sounds like you and he are in agreement, then. He said he doesn’t want to go anywhere and wants to re-sign here. Mitch Kupchak: Yeah, I’ve read the things he said. He’s beloved here. He’s our All-Star. So, why wouldn’t you want to have him end his career here? He’s been here from the beginning. He’s beloved in the community. It sounds like he wants to stay here. There’s nothing that can be done about that now. Next summer, we’ll do what we have to do.
The two-time NBA All-Star becomes an unrestricted free agent next July. There is expected to be plenty of interest in him around the league next summer, but Walker said unequivocally Monday that his goal is to continue playing for Michael Jordan's Hornets. The 28-year-old Walker said at Hornets media day that he doesn't "want to be nowhere else."
"You see guys who are on elite teams. I don't want to do that. I want to create something special here in Charlotte, something that we have never had here before. I want to create some consistency. And I want to be a part of that," he said. Walker says he is "confident" the Hornets will try to re-sign him next summer, saying, "I just have that feeling."
JJ Redick: "This week, you did the NBPA camp, and the New York media asked you about playing at home... I feel like this notion, of playing at home, a lot of guys don't want to do it. Why do you think that is?" Kemba Walker: "I think it's just hard coming back home. New York is New York. I'm from here. But you know, I'm just very comfortable in Charlotte. That's why I gave [the media] those answers. Charlotte was the first team to give me my opportunity out of college, and during the draft, I had no idea where I was going. So I get asked questions about New York all the time, and I'm like, 'I don't know.' I've been on one team my whole entire career so far and I'll be a free agent next season, so, we'll see."
JJ Redick: "As you've seen this summer, this notion of player loyalty gets thrown out. So in the back of your mind, I understand what you're saying publicly, but there's gotta be a part of you that's basically like, 'I gotta do what's best for me.'" Kemba Walker: "I think at some point, it's gonna come down to that - it's gonna come down to be making the best decision for me and my family. But at this particular moment, at this time, Charlotte is where I want to be. It's the team that gave me my first opportunity. I just want to give back to the community, to the organization, just like I've done, but I want to continue to do it. I just want to help the organization become successful, and I think I can. You can count on your hand how many times we've been to the playoffs - we really haven't been successful. I want to be one of the guys that helps that organization really become successful, I want to be in the playoffs every single year. And that's a huge part of why I don't want to leave."
Last season, Walker averaged 22.1 points and 5.6 assists and averaged even more trade rumors — a first for him. “Yeah, of course, who wouldn’t it bother?” Walker said of the trade reports. “Who wants to hear their name in trade rumors? At the same time, I’m seven years in. That was my first time ever hearing anything of that nature. I got over it. What can I do? I tried to ignore it, not think about it as much. I’m in Charlotte. I’m excited to be a Hornet as long as possible.
Kemba Walker can’t avoid it. Whenever he sets foot in the five boroughs, the questions come from every direction. “I’ve been hearing it for years,” Walker said Thursday, after working with youngsters at the National Basketball Players Association summer camp. “Every time I come home, ‘When are you going to come home and play for the Knicks?’ I know it’s a special place, I was a Knicks fan growing up, always rooted for the home team. But I just can’t see myself in a Knicks jersey, only because I’ve only been in one jersey.”
Walker, who will earn $12 million this season before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019, was asked if we could ever see himself in New York for a homecoming. “As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it,” Walker replied. “I’m a Hornet, and I’m planning on being a Hornet for a long time, so, yeah, I’m not sure about that (New York).”
The 28-year-old Walker has been the subject of possible NBA trade talks as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract with the Hornets. That speculation has amped up recently because it is a practical impossibility for Charlotte to sign Walker to an extension before he becomes a free agent in July of 2019 since the Hornets are so tight under the salary cap. "I think everybody is aware of the situation, if you follow basketball a little bit, it is unique that he is on an extension that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out before he becomes a free agent," Kupchak said.
Polk said it’s a “concern” Walker will likely have to reach unrestricted free-agency before he could be re-signed, but that’s a function of the rules. “We love Kemba Walker,” Polk said. “We would like nothing more than for Kemba to end his career here.”
This rumor is part of a storyline: 136 more rumors
More HoopsHype Rumors
August 14, 2022 | 3:06 am EDT Update

Kevin Durant holding out of training camp?

Brian Windhorst spent much of his Friday episode of “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective” podcast talking about Durant’s situation. Windhorst said he felt the Nets won the recent showdown between Durant and team owner Joe Tsai. But Windy doesn’t necessarily think that means all is over between the sides. In fact, Windhorst says he now could see a world where Durant holds out of training camp. “A week ago, if you had asked me, ‘Will Kevin Durant hold out of training camp if he is not traded?’ I would have been like, ‘eh, I can’t see it.’ Now I can see it. That is what we are headed towards,” Windhorst said.
Longtime basketball writer Marc Stein reported on Saturday that a matchup between the Grizzlies and the rival Golden State Warriors is on the NBA’s preliminary schedule for the 2022-23 season. Morant, the Memphis star, responded to the news with some trash talk for Warriors counterpart Draymond Green. “we got what we wanted dray. @Money23Green,” Morant tweeted along with a photo of a heated moment he had on the court with Green last year. Green was actually fairly muted and deferential in his response to Morant, tweeting back, “That’s the power of your voice Young! Let’s gooooo! Bring the fam to the crib for dinner after.”
The lawsuit says that by sharing the photos, those involved — including the deputy at the bar and firefighters weeks later at an awards banquet — violated the victims’ families’ constitutional rights to control images of their loved ones’ remains. “Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought of strangers gawking at images of her deceased husband and child, and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online,” Bryant’s lawyers wrote in a complaint. “Many social media users have claimed to have seen photos of the victims’ remains, and their accounts are plausible given the number of deputies who took photos, the ease with which cellphone pictures are transmitted and saved in cloud storage, and the Sheriff’s Department’s egregious failure to take reasonable steps to prevent dissemination of the photos.”
Storyline: Vanessa Bryant Lawsuit
Surveillance video inside the bar showing Cruz and Gutierrez interacting and appearing to look at Cruz’s cellphone together played throughout his testimony. At times, it appeared that Cruz and Gutierrez were smiling and laughing after viewing the photos — but Gutierrez disputed that interpretation. “What type of human being would laugh at photos of other human beings like that?” he said. Bryant, sitting in the courtroom, repeatedly wiped away tears and, at times, held her head in her hands. At one point, while Gutierrez testified about the photos, she asked the judge for permission to leave the courtroom. She stood up and walked out, wiping tears from her eyes. The trial is expected to last at least another week, with 52 total witnesses slated to appear. Villanueva and Bryant are among those scheduled to testify.
August 13, 2022 | 9:32 pm EDT Update