Kemba Walker became the first domino to fall after New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau hinted on lineup changes before the NBA All-Star break.
Walker’s New York homecoming excruciatingly came to an end Wednesday after the four-time All-Star decided to sit out the Knicks’ final 23 games. ESPN first reported the story.
“We fully support Kemba’s decision to shut it down for the remainder of the season and to use this time to prepare for next season. His long-term success on the court remains our priority,” Knicks team president Leon Rose said in a statement.
Walker will be on a $9.1 million expiring deal next season. This makes him a more palatable trade chip this summer as the Knicks hope to reshape their roster, which has been disappointing so far. Thibodeau was confronted with a rotation logjam after the Knicks failed to move Walker and their other veterans at the trade deadline. The emergence of rookie Quentin Grimes, the addition of Cam Reddish, and the impending return of Derrick Rose did not help Walker’s cause. Walker was the odd man out after he went in and out of the lineup due to lingering knee soreness.
The Knicks have spiraled to 12th in the Eastern Conference following a 3-13 record in their last 16 games. Thibodeau hinted that they could pivot to developing their younger players.
“We have a chance to reboot here,” Thibodeau said after the Knicks blew a 28-point lead to the Brooklyn Nets last week. “Everything is on the table now. Everything has to be merit-based. You earn what you get. You look at everything. How are we going to manage this? If a guy is playing good, he plays. If the team is functioning well, he should play. The team has to come first for everyone.”
Walker, a Bronx native, signed a two-year deal with the Knicks after securing a buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder. At that time, it was trumpeted as a low-risk, high-reward move. But save for one solid stretch in December, Walker was a shell of himself.
The 31-year old Walker was yanked out of the rotation for nine games in November before re-emerging after COVID-19 decimated the Knicks roster. He came back with a vengeance, scoring 29, 21, and a season-high 44 points before a Christmas Day triple-double. It was short-lived as he moved in and out of the lineup, signaling the beginning of an end.
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