Kemba Walker in New York is the first sign that the Knicks are starting to shed their “no man’s land” label.
It will be the first time since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010 that an All-Star caliber player will be signing with the Knicks. Never mind if Walker is coming off a down year derailed by a knee injury. But consider this: an All-Star talent like him could have commanded several offers from playoff teams, but he chose the Knicks and gave them a hometown discount.
On one good knee, Walker still averaged 19.3 points and 4.9 assists in 43 games last season.
This summer, his focus is on getting back to full health and return to his All-Star form next season.
â€œIâ€™m planning on a big summer and getting myself feeling good again. Itâ€™s been a while since Iâ€™ve really had time off,â€ he said after the Boston Celtics were eliminated in the playoffs last June. â€œThis is an important time for me.â€
A healthy and motivated Walker next season could be the difference-maker for the Knicks after their surprising playoff run ended in a gentleman sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. Walker is a massive upgrade from Elfrid Payton, giving Tom Thibodeau a bona fide playmaker and shotmaker that will command attention away from the team’s other All-Star and the league’s Most Improved Player, Julius Randle.
Walker is projected to join a supercharged starting unit alongside fellow newcomer and former Celtics teammate Evan Fournier with holdovers RJ Barrett, Randle, and Mitchell Robinson or Nerlens Noel at the middle.
The new Knicks' lineup could be scary ? pic.twitter.com/av4tIR4znB
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 4, 2021
The Bronx native who starred in Rice High School and nearby UConn in college is coming home to the Madison Square Garden, where he had his legendary Cardiac Kemba Shot.
— Jake Asman (@JakeAsman) August 4, 2021
More than his reputation as a big shot maker, Walker is also a great locker room presence and a leader who fits the culture the Knicks are building.
The Walker homecoming came out of the left-field. Leon Rose and the Knicks were ridiculed following a ho-hum start in the free agency after creating as much as $52.6 million in cap space this summer.
They started the free agency by re-signing Alec Burks (3-year, $30 million), Nerlens Noel (3-year, $32 million), and Derrick Rose (3-year, $43 million deal via Early Bird Rights). Then they upgraded the wing spot with Evan Fournier (4-year, $78 million) after Reggie Bullock departed for the Dallas Mavericks (3-year, $30.5 million).
Taj Gibson also agreed to return on a 1-year, veteran minimum deal ($2.7 million).
Kemba Walker will sign a 2 year contract with the Knicks in the $8-9 million range, per league sources.
New York also has Team Options for the final seasons on the Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel and Derrick Rose contracts (in addition to Evan Fournier’s, as was previously reported)
— Ryan McDonough (@McDNBA) August 4, 2021
It turned out all the multi-year deals they doled out have team options in the final year, giving Knicks flexibility in 2023 free agency where Zion Williamson and Joel Embiid could be the potential crown jewels.
The Knicks have been sneakily good since Leon Rose came to power. The shrewdly executed trades in the NBA Draft have set them up for a banger of a summer.
They traded away their 19th pick to Charlotte for a future first-round pick, then traded back from 21st pick (from Mavericks via Kristaps Porzingis trade) to 25th pick for 3-and-D prospect Quentin Grimes — a move that saved them $2.7 million in cap space. Then they flipped the 32nd pick into the 34th (Miles McBride) and 36th pick (Rokas Jokubaitis) and took Texas Longhorn center Jericho Sims, a candidate to slide in one of their two-way player slots, with their 58th pick.
Here is the Knicks updated Depth Chart:
PG: Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose, Miles McBride
SG: Evan Fournier, Immanuel Quickley, Luca Vildoza
SF: RJ Barrett, Alec Burks, Quentin Grimes
PF: Julius Randle, Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox
C: Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson
The Knicks accomplished three things with their savvy moves — continuity, flexibility, and respectability.
They are determined to prove that last year’s playoff run was no fluke and took some risks to upgrade the talent in their roster. Walker and Fournier should provide an offensive boost to a starting unit that heavily relied on Randle.
Based on their shooting percentages last season, Fournier is a significant upgrade over Bullock.
Some Fournier shooting numbers from last season because why not:
55% on corner 3's
41.7% on catch and shoot 3's
40.3% on pull up 3's
Doesn't get much better than that
— Ariel (@APachecoNBA) August 3, 2021
It took a while before the Knicks’ grand plan this summer all came together. And it started with a perfectly executed bunt in the Draft that allowed them to hit singles with Fournier, Rose, Burks, and Noel to cover all bases before swinging for the home run with Walker.
Well played, Leon.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo