Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker said Wednesday that coming to the realization he'd be forced to leave the Charlotte Hornets, the franchise that selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, in order to get the contract he wanted was difficult to accept.
Walker told Shams Charania of The Athletic he had to get his "head wrapped around the feeling and picking another team."
"Tough days, f--king tough days, I can't even lie," he said. "Excuse my language. It was difficult. I couldn't see myself just being on another team. It was just hard. That's all I've known was Charlotte. Definitely some tough times. I had a feeling that I wasn't going to get the offer that I wanted, and maybe not close to it, because of cap space."
Walker was eligible to receive a supermax contract extension from the Hornets worth $221 million over five years. Charlotte's best offer came in at just under $160 million for five years, per Charania.
The 29-year-old New York City native, who's preparing to lead Team USA in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, opted instead to sign a four-year, $140.8 million contract with the Celtics as part of a sign-and-trade deal with the Hornets.
"I'm not trying to go in and think that I have to be better than Kyrie last year," he said. "It happens. Great players go to teams all the time and it just doesn't work. It just didn't work for him. Kyrie is one of the best players we have in this world. It was just unfortunate, an unfortunate season."
The Celtics, who entered last season among the league's top championship contenders, finished with a 49-33 record and were eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the playoffs.
Boston's roster got a makeover with the departures of Irving, Al Horford and Terry Rozier combined with the arrivals of Walker and Enes Kanter.
The front office hopes those changes, paired with a returning core led by Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward, can lead to better results, especially in the postseason. Walker told Charania he's looking forward to the challenge.
"I haven't wrapped my mind around contending at this high level," he said. "It doesn't even sound right. I've been with the Hornets for eight years, and maybe one time we had some expectations. Maybe just one season; seven-, six-seed or something. This year, there will be expectations—and I'm excited. I don't know how to feel, I've never had this feeling."
The World Cup could end up being a test run for the new-look Celtics with Walker, Tatum, Brown and Smart all on the Americans' preliminary roster.