Winners and Losers from Celtics-Thunder Kemba Walker Trade
Early Friday morning, news broke that the Boston Celtics had found a taker for Kemba Walker.
The trade mostly swaps one burdensome contract for another, and Boston seemingly sweetened the pot with a first-round pick. But the 21-year-old Brown showed plenty of upside in 2020-21, and Horford makes significantly less than Walker annually.
The Thunder continue to add to their deep trove of picks, and there's little chance Walker will play a long-term role.
Whether that's a trade soon or sometime at home (as was the case with Horford last season), it's clear Walker doesn't fit the timeline in OKC. The next chapter of his career will likely take place elsewhere.
With this kind of trade value established, though, the return the Thunder get for him will be worth watching. Given their modus operandi, they probably won't be willing to add sweeteners to a Walker deal.
With all that in mind, let's look at some potential winners and losers from this early trade.
Winner: Boston Celtics
With all the handwringing over Walker's play and massive contract, which is set to pay him $73.7 million over the next two seasons (assuming he picks up his $37.7 million option for 2022-23), you'd think he was a net negative for the Celtics in 2020-21.
He wasn't. Boston's net points per 100 possessions was 3.4 points better when he was on the floor. The problem is that it's become increasingly difficult to know when he'll be on the floor.
Walker is 31 years old, undersized and beset by knee problems that cost him 16 games in 2019-20 and 29 more this season. Without some magic elixir, it's fair to assume this ailment and the natural effects of aging could slow him down. And at his size (6'0" and 184 pounds), explosiveness is paramount for continuing to be a top-end offensive weapon.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both still on the rise, so Brad Stevens' decision to ship Walker, his ailing lower body and his 26.1 usage percentage elsewhere makes sense.
Those two face a lot of pressure, but they've been growing accustomed to that through Walker's injury absences. Horford can do some playmaking from the 5 (more on that later), and Marcus Smart can help on that front too (again, stay tuned).
Stevens may need to look for backcourt depth, but this first move makes sense on multiple basketball levels.
Boston gets a financial win here too. Horford is also under contract for the next two seasons, and he's older than Walker, but the total commitment to him is $53.5 million. He also has the kind of game that should age better than Walker's.
Moses Brown's three-year, $5.5 million deal (with a team option for the last season) is also more cost-efficient than the rookie-scale salary for a No. 16 pick.
On almost all fronts, this is a win for Boston.
Loser: Kemba Walker
Just over a week ago, Bleacher Report's Farbod Esnaashari reported that Walker wanted out of Boston. If we reduce the "winner or loser" question to that factor, you could chalk this up as a win for Kemba.
He might also look at his upcoming season in OKC (assuming he isn't traded before 2021-22 tips off) as an opportunity to rehab his trade value in a similar fashion to Chris Paul.
That's the optimistic approach if you're in Walker's camp. But it's difficult to ignore the optics that come along with that sweetener Boston had to attach to this deal.
You can rationalize it by saying the No. 16 pick is a wash with Brown, who's shown more in the NBA than whoever the pick will be, but the fact remains: The Celtics had to pay a first-round pick to get someone to take Kemba.
Barring the kind of rehab mentioned above, that will be part of the analysis for any potential Walker deals going forward. And if he continues to struggle with availability, his value could tail off even more.
If that happens, Walker will be toiling away on a rebuilding team for likely the last couple of years of his prime.
A lot of prognostication is involved here, and Walker could bust all these talking points, but he may be this deal's lone "loser."
Winner: Al Horford
It's been an interesting couple of seasons for Horford since he left the Celtics.
The experiment with the Philadelphia 76ers was a borderline disaster. He and Joel Embiid are both centers, and (surprise, surprise) playing two centers together in today's NBA doesn't work.
Philly was good if either was on the floor without the other, but it was minus-0.1 points per 100 possessions when both were in.
One of Daryl Morey's first orders of business upon taking that 76ers job was to ship Horford out for some shooting, though it cost him a first-round pick and Theo Maledon.
OKC sent Danny Green to the Sixers, where he fit seamlessly. Horford, on the other hand, entered a situation that made little sense for where he was as a player.
In the midst of one of the NBA's most epic tank jobs, the Thunder sent a healthy Horford home in an effort to lose more games. On the season, 22-50 OKC was 6.1 points per 100 possessions better when Horford played.
That indicates Horford can still help a team, and Boston is likely banking on that.
Horford is 35 years old, but his game has long been predicated more on feel and basketball IQ than high-end explosiveness.
His role with the Celtics will be limited. Tatum and Brown will do plenty of scoring. If Horford can create from the elbows or the top of the key, space the floor as a catch-and-shoot threat and be in the right places on defense, he'll help.
This is the kind of role and situation the veteran should want.
Winner: Oklahoma City Thunder
Sam Presti is at the controls for one of the most impressive rebuilds the league has seen in recent years. After Friday's deal, OKC has 13 first-round picks (or pick swaps) incoming between now and 2026. They only have one outgoing first.
While there's no telling when, or even if, this will amount to a title contender, the Thunder have a wealth of options at their disposal.
Since they're not winning anytime soon, taking on unwanted contracts like those of Horford or Walker is worth it to add to that stockpile of picks.
It may have been preferable to keep Brown, who was a rebounding machine in his second season, but the player picked 16th in 2021 could become more valuable.
That pick may also be more tradable in another deal before the draft. If the Thunder want to move up, a team ahead of them may be more interested in the theoretical value of No. 16 than in Brown.
Given their situation, this is another win for Presti.
Winner: Marcus Smart
Boston needs someone to assume the starting point guard role. Although Payton Pritchard was a pleasant surprise in his rookie season, it's hard to see him as a championship-level point guard.
Some might say the same of Smart, but his game might fit the position well on this team.
Tatum and Brown are the top two scoring options. Smart won't have to focus much on that, which will leave plenty of energy for defense and playmaking.
On one end, Smart is quick enough to bother opposing point guards, but he also has the size and strength to switch onto bigger perimeter threats. On the other, he can be a reliable drive-and-kick initiator (he averaged a career-high 6.3 assists per 75 possessions this year) and will hit the occasional catch-and-shoot three.
This may be the kind of role Smart needs in order to hit his ceiling. After two seasons as the primary creator for Oklahoma State, he entered the league as a point guard, but he's only played that position for about a quarter of his NBA possessions.
Moving him back to the 1 and surrounding him with shooting could unlock another level of impact.