By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Kemba Walker participated in some live action Thursday morning, which is great news for the Boston Celtics and their All-Star point guard. But it’s what he had to say about his role on the team that will have Celtics fans grinning ear to ear ahead of the NBA’s restart.
Until this season, Walker spent his entire NBA career as the face of the franchise in Charlotte. While he got loads of experience leading an NBA team during his time with the Bobcats/Hornets, one thing he didn’t get to experience much of was the NBA playoffs.
That will change soon enough, with the Celtics locked into a postseason spot following the eight “seeding” games they’ll play when NBA action resumes. Walker is hoping to be at his best when it matters most for the Celtics, but unlike his time in Charlotte, he won’t be relied on to do everything for the team.
Walker knows his place in the Boston pecking order, and when it comes to the team’s offense, he’s here to play quarterback, making life easier for rising stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. If the two 20-somethings finish with more points than Walker every night, he’s A-OK with that.
“I knew what I was getting myself into when I came here,” Walker said Thursday. “I knew how much room for improvement these guys had, and those two guys are two special talents. It’s not a problem for me at all. I know I’m being part of the growth. It’s fun. We’re playing fun basketball.”
While the nightmare that was the 2018-19 Boston Celtics has long been forgotten, thanks in large part to seeing Kemba’s glowing smile on a nightly basis, hearing the point guard utter such thoughts is an incredible 180 from what things were like during last year’s disappointing playoff run, which stalled out in the second round on the back of their ornery leader. That guy may have been more talented than Walker, but Walker’s leadership skills blow his out of the building.
Walker would obviously like to score his share of points when it matters most for his team. But if he puts up a goose egg and the Celtics win — and win consistently — in the playoffs, then all is right in the world for Walker.
“I’ve been averaging 20-plus points for the last couple of years, so it’s not a problem for me at all. I just want to get to the playoffs and make runs in the playoffs,” said Walker, who played in just 11 playoff games during his nine years with Charlotte. “That’s my main focus. I could care less about points and stuff like that at this point. Everybody knows what they’re going to get from me on a nightly basis.
“Yeah, it’s about those guys, man,” he said of his young teammates. “It’s about those guys and their growth, it’s about those guys getting better. Me and Gordon [Hayward] are the two guys who are going to help those guys develop as much as possible.”
That is some sweet, sweet music in the ears of Celtics fans. It was abundantly clear from the jump that this iteration of the Celtics wouldn’t suffer the same chemistry issues that plagued last year’s team, and the change in point guard had a lot to do with that. (Tatum morphing into a stud on offense and Brown’s emergence as a two-way player certainly helped as well.) Walker has been the perfect leader for Boston’s mix of rising stars and established talent, and now with the playoffs in sight and a real shot at the NBA Finals, Walker is once again willing to take a back seat to those youngsters if it’s for the better of the team.
Of course to do so, Walker will have to actually suit up for the Celtics when games resume. That has been in question since his balky left knee started to act up again, keeping him out of practice and the team’s scrimmages.
But he was back on the floor Thursday, and though Brad Stevens confirmed that Walker won’t play in Friday’s exhibition game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Walker said he’s getting closer and closer to being back to normal.
“I feel really good, actually. It was really fun to get out there with my teammates,” he said after Thursday’s workload. “I’m in a good place right now.”