By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The start of NBA free agency is still three days away, so quite a lot can change between now and then. But the Boston Celtics have emerged as the frontrunner to sign free agent point guard Kemba Walker, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Boston’s interest in Walker hit the rumor mill on Tuesday, as the team looks to fill the void at point guard left by the likely departure of Kyrie Irving. Walker makes a lot of sense for the Celtics, a dynamic scorer and crafty ball-handler who averaged 25.6 points and 5.9 assists for the Charlotte Hornets last year. He’s a proven leader, serving as the face of the Charlotte franchise since they drafted him ninth overall in 2011. While he isn’t the offensive powerhouse that Irving is on the floor, he’d be a breath of fresh air in the Boston locker room.
The Celtics have been hard at work clearing cap space since it became clear that Irving would not return and after Al Horford opted out of the final year of his contract. They traded center Aron Baynes on draft night and could have $34 million in cap space available if they renounce the rest of their free agents. The bulk of that would go into a max contract offer for Walker.
“Walker is expected to be offered a four-year, $141 million contract to sign with the Celtics when free agency opens Sunday at 6 PM ET — a deal that he’s increasingly likely to accept, league sources said,” Wojnarowski wrote Thursday.
Woj went even further later in the afternoon when appearing on SportsCenter.
“Barring an unforeseen change of events, Kemba Walker is going to leave Charlotte,” said Wojnarowski. “He’s going to head to Boston where, with Kyrie Irving on his way out, Boston is poised now to replace one All-Star point guard with a three-time All-Star point guard in Kemba Walker, who played his college ball nearby at UConn. ”
Walker put in quite the show during the 2011 NCAA tournament, averaging 23.5 points per game while leading the Huskies to a title, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the process. Now, it appears the three-time NBA All-Star is heading back to New England.
Charlotte can offer Walker a supermax deal, which will pay him $80 million more than what the Celtics can offer over five years. But according to a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Walker and the Hornets have “sizable gaps and stalemate” in their contract talks. That is great news for the Celtics and other teams looking to lure Walker away from Charlotte.
The offseason outlook for the Celtics didn’t look very bright a few days ago. But with the team now emerging as the favorites to land Walker, things are looking up again in Boston.
Update: Stephen A. Smith is reporting that Walker has informed the Hornets that he will not be returning to Charlotte after they offered him less than the supermax.