Kemba Walker Remains Hornets' Top Offseason Priority, Mitch Kupchak Says

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2019

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 9: Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets handles the ball during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 9, 2019 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak told reporters Friday that re-signing Kemba Walker remains the team's top priority, though he added:

"You're talking about a substantial contract that goes out many years. When that happens, it creates some financial inflexibility that you have to deal with. We have to be mindful of a Kemba contract, should we be lucky enough to re-sign him. There could be limitations [on other roster moves], absolutely."

"I would not anticipate that is something we would look to do," Kupchak said of going into the luxury tax. "There are ways to increase [the distance from the luxury-tax threshold]. It's important we address that as soon as possible. Everybody needs to get on and plan."

But that could mean concessions elsewhere, especially if Walker gets anything close to the five-year, $221 million supermax he is eligible to receive.

He had previously stated he would take less than the full max, though teams on the open market can offer him four-year, $141 million deals. That's about $35 million per year, meaning it's hard to imagine Walker signing for much less than that, which would put him at five years and $175 million.

Unless Walker signs elsewhere, the Hornets will need to get creative with their cap maneuvering.

It could mean they can't afford to re-sign guard Jeremy Lamb. It could mean giving up future assets to move off bigger contracts like Marvin Williams ($15 million next season), Nicolas Batum ($25.6 million in 2019-20, $27.1 million player option in 2020-21) or Cody Zeller ($14.5 million in 2019-20, $15.4 million in 2020-21).

Or the team could use the waive-and-stretch provision on Bismack Biyombo's $17 million contract for next season, releasing him and keeping a $5.6 million cap hit on the books for the next three seasons.

Walker is the team's only star, and he averaged a robust 25.6 points, 5.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from three last season.

So the Hornets find themselves in a conundrum. If they sign Walker to a huge five-year deal, they won't have the cap space to build a contender around him. If they lose him in free agency, they're heading to a rebuild without much young talent.