The Boston Celtics are expected to sign Kemba Walker to a four-year, $141 million contract once free agency opens Sunday, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium, but the team would have reportedly acquired him in the past if given the opportunity.
According to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:
"One league exec who's dealt with the Celtics even went as far as to tell the Herald he knows for a fact the club would have been willing to trade Irving for Walker during the past two years. If he's right, it would indicate the Celts knew there were issues with Irving's approach to leadership and general ability to help cool the fires of young players whose image might have surpassed their actual abilities following the 2018 conference finals run."
It's possible, of course, that such a statement is a bit of revisionist history.
It wouldn't be surprising if a number of reports besmirching Irving start to surface in Boston in the wake of the mercurial point guard's departure after an up-and-down 2018-19 season. It also wouldn't be surprising if the Celtics quietly and anonymously peddled the narrative that Irving—not the front office, coaching staff or players remaining on the roster—was the root cause of the team's issues.
But the Celtics may have previously recognized that Walker's personality would work better in their locker room than Irving's. That, the potential belief that Irving could depart as a free agent and his injury history would be the reasons to consider swapping the pair in the past.
In their respective careers, Irving has averaged more points (22.2 PPG to 19.8 PPG), assists (5.7 APG to 5.5 APG) and is a better shooter (46.5 percent to 41.8 percent from the field, 39 percent to 35.7 percent from three).
Irving also has an NBA title to his name. And his handle is historically good.
Granted, Walker was superb last season, averaging a career-high 25.6 points, better than Irving's 23.8. But Walker was also Charlotte's top offensive option and didn't have much of a supporting cast, while Irving was navigating an offense that included Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart.
Walker will have to navigate some of those same potential issues, albeit with Horford and Rozier likely moving on. But he'll also have a legitimate supporting cast around him for the first time in his career, and having less pressure to orchestrate the offense single-handedly should be something of a relief.
For the Celtics, replacing Irving with Walker was as good a consolation prize as the team could have hoped for in an offseason that had been veering off the rails. It's possible the Celtics were interested in Walker all along. It's also possible the team is doing a bit of narrative management in the post-Irving era.