By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — With Kyrie Irving expected to leave Boston when NBA free agency gets underway, the Celtics will be on the search for another franchise point guard this summer. They will reportedly be targeting one of the top free agents available at the position.

The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported Tuesday that the Celtics are “emerging as a stealth suitor” for three-time All-Star Kemba Walker, who has spent his entire eight-year career with Charlotte after they drafted him ninth overall in 2011. Walker averaged a career-high 25.6 points to go with 5.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game for the Hornets last season, earning him a spot on the All-NBA Third Team. He played in all 82 games last season, and has missed just six games over the last four years.

The “stealth” aspect of Boston’s interest in Walker was gone by Tuesday afternoon.

The fit is obvious, with Walker the second-best point guard available after Irving. He is not only a gifted scorer but a proven leader as well, serving as the face of the Charlotte franchise for his entire career. While he’s never been a superstar in the NBA like he was at UConn, leading the Huskies to the 2011 NCAA title over Brad Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs, he checks all the boxes of a player you’d want leading your team. He’s also a tad more … personable than Irving, which would bode well for the Boston locker room.

But it’s going to cost a pretty penny to get a player like Walker, and would likely eat up all of Boston’s available cap space this summer.

The Hornets can offer Walker more than anyone else this offseason, and he’s already said that he would consider taking less to remain in Charlotte, which can offer him a supermax contract worth up to $221 million over five years. The most Boston or another suitor could offer Walker is a four-year deal worth $140 million, so there are 80 million reasons for him to remain a Hornet. The Los Angeles Lakers are also expected to make a push to sign Walker, hoping to team the 29-year-old up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with the Dallas Mavericks also emerging as a potential suitor on Tuesday.

The Celtics could have as much as $34 million in cap space available if they renounce all their free agents, and that would pretty much make up the first year of a potential Walker pact. But signing Walker and putting him alongside Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward would go a long way in making up for the loss of Irving.

The offseason hasn’t been very good for the Celtics so far, but hearing them mentioned in rumblings about a max player — and a point guard at that — is a reason to feel somewhat optimistic when free agency gets underway on June 30.

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