Why the Lakers should trade for Kemba!
Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram for Kemba Walker is an offer the desperately-needing-to-rebuild Charlotte Hornets can’t refuse
While the surging Lakers’ LeBron James was dropping 44 and 51 points in two of his last three games, the ready-to-rebuild Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker one-upped him by dropping 60 and 43 points in his last two games.
Kemba Walker has been often called a poor man’s Kyrie Irving by many writers and analysts, but he’s been working hard to change that perception. Both players are small, quick shoot-first point guards who can take over games and create shots for themselves or teammates at all three levels. They’re both outstanding shooters, ball handlers, and playmakers whose games are stylistically similar to that of the Warriors’ Stephen Curry.
While there’s a difference between stats on a winning versus a losing team, Walker’s and Irving’s current year and career stats are eerily comparable: Kemba’s current season stat line is 29.6/4.4/6.1 vs. Kyrie’s 22.4/4.9/5.9. Kemba’s career total stat line is 19.2/3.8/5.4 vs. Kyrie’s 22.0/3.5/5.5. Kemba’s current shooting stats are 46/38/86% vs. Kyrie’s 50/42/82%. Kemba’s career shooting stats are 42/36/84% vs. Kyrie’s 46/39/87%.
While Kemba’s never been on the Lakers’ radar as a possible trade or free agent target, you could make an argument based on how similar his game is to Kyrie Irving that he’d be a perfect fit playing alongside LeBron, something both Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram have struggled to do so far this season. As valuable as Ball and Ingram have been and as high their upside could be, they’re not likely to be ready in time to help LeBron win a championship.
Kemba Walker, on the other hand, could be exactly what LeBron and the Lakers need to take their game to the next level and actually compete for a championship. He’s the quick, elusive guard who could take over as the team’s go-to closer just as he did when he played alongside LeBron on the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s the answer to all those close losses the Lakers suffered when they lost five of their first seven games to start the season.
The beauty of trading for Kemba is the Lakers would not have to wait until the middle of December to dramatically upgrade the roster for this year nor would they have to give up the chance to sign Kevin Durant next summer.
Four years ago, Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets signed Kemba Walker to a $48 million deal that paid the young point guard $12 million per year, not dissimilar to the bargain contract the Warriors’ gave Steph Curry. Fast forward four frustrating years and the Hornets’ 6' 1" dynamo of a point guard is suddenly leading the entire NBA in scoring at 29.7 points per game, spurring Michael Jordan to say that he’s ‘hellbent’ on re-signing Kemba.
Unfortunately, that train may already have departed. While Kemba is saying all the right things, he’d be foolish to re-sign with the Hornets, even if they offered him a $32 million max contract. The Hornets’ front office has failed for seven years to surround Kemba with the quality of talent needed to win. The fact that the Hornets could not even beat the 76ers despite Kemba’s 60 points says everything you need to know about why Kemba needs to leave.
Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets are trapped in a no-win situation. Kemba may be building a house in Charlotte and talking how he loves the city but he’s also complained of being tired of losing and watching the playoffs. There’ve been rumors of his wanting to leave to join the Knicks or Nets as he grew up and went to high school in New York and the Hornets current roster looks more like a team that should be tanking instead of chasing the playoffs.
The harsh reality is Kemba Walker is really all the Charlotte Hornets have. They’re not going to attract elite free agents and they don’t have the large market ability to buy their way into the playoffs in what’s now a tougher East. The Hornets need to rebuild and trading Kemba for young assets and picks is the only way they can realistically do that. Unless Kemba suddenly commits to staying, gambling they can re-sign this summer would be a foolish move.
It’s fun to celebrate Kemba’s last two games and the team’s playoff worthy start but the sad truth is that, even with Kemba playing like an MVP, the Hornets aren’t a playoff team and they can’t risk losing him for nothing.
Enter the Los Angeles Lakers who are struggling to surround LeBron James with the right players to enable them to compete for an NBA championship. The Lakers had hoped one of their budding young stars would emerge as Robin to LeBron’s Batman but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen soon, which means the Lakers need to make a major move midseason if they hope to compete for a championship in the first year of LeBron’s 4-year contract.
Limiting any midseason moves the Lakers might want to make is their front office’s commitment to not make any moves that would eat into the potential $38 million in cap space they’ve set aside to sign Kevin Durant next summer. That eliminates trading for a second superstar like Bradley Beal who’d reduce the Lakers’ open cap space for next summer to $20 million but it does leaves the door open to considering a midseason trade to acquire Kemba Walker.
What makes the Kemba Walker trade possible in his low $12 million salary and $18 million cap hold, which means the Lakers could bundle Lonzo’s $7.5 million and Brandon’s $5.8 million contracts plus a pick to trade for Kemba. Adding Kemba’s $18 million cap hold and subtracting Lonzo’s $8.7 million and Brandon’s $7.3 million cap holds would costs the Lakers $2 of their $38 million in cap space, which they can easily recoup by moving Moe Wagner.
That means the Lakers could trade Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to the Hornets for Kemba Walker as the team’s second superstar to go with LeBron and still have room to sign KD, Kawhi, or Klay as a free agent next summer. More importantly, trading for Kemba would not only give the Lakers a shot at legitimately competing for a championship this season but also guarantee they’d be a more attractive landing spot for elite free agents next summer.
If the Lakers want to avoid wasting the first of the three guaranteed years on LeBron’s contract, then they need to make the Charlotte Hornets an offer they cannot refuse: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and a pick for Kemba Walker.