Kemba Walker was "heartbroken" to learn the Boston Celtics traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder days after the team was eliminated from the postseason, according to The Athletic's Jared Weiss.
The Celtics underwent a major shakeup following a first-round loss to the Brooklyn Nets with director of basketball operations Danny Ainge announcing his retirement and naming head coach Brad Stevens as his replacement—leaving the team in need of a replacement for Stevens on the bench.
Stevens' first move in the front office was dealing Walker, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2025 second-round pick to OKC to reacquire Al Horford along with Moses Brown and a 2023 second-round pick.
Walker found himself leaving Boston two years after joining the club via sign-and-trade with the Charlotte Hornets.
"The most challenging part is being in that seat and having to make that call and ultimately say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do that,’ when you’re talking about a guy like Kemba,” Stevens told reporters. “Again, coached him for two years, have nothing but great things to say about him and really good teammate, really good player, really good person, easy to be around every day. I think that’s what made it the most difficult part of it, obviously.”
Walker was certainly productive in Boston, averaging 19.9 points, 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game, though nagging knee injuries limited him to 43 regular season contests in 2020-21 after disrupting his playoff run in 2020.
After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Celtics regressed in 2020-21, finishing fourth in the Atlantic Division (36-36) and notching the No. 7 seed before the Nets finished them off in five games.
While a number of injuries throughout the season undoubtedly stunted Boston's progress, Stevens decided to change course rather than regroup for 2021-22—even if it meant moving Walker.
“[I] just really liked Kemba, period, end of story,” Stevens said. “He is a super-likable person and, again, I think the deal was made and I’m sure it’s been talked about on the outside and everything else, but there are a couple of things: We had to look at with the idea of moving that first-round pick this year, it gave us the opportunity to look at a road ahead with a few more options, from the financial flexibility standpoint, with the picks, all of our future first-round picks past this year, which, again, give you more options."