Kemba Walker to sign with Knicks after agreeing to contract buyout with Thunder
Knicks previously signed Walker’s former Celtics teammate Evan Fournier to a free-agent deal
New York still faces long odds to win next season’s NBA title
The New York Knicks were one of the NBA’s most surprising teams last season. Despite entering the season with plus-money odds to even qualify for the playoffs, New York stormed its way to the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Tom Thibodeau proved to be a shrewd hire in his first year on the job, and New York is hoping to build off of that momentum heading into the 2021-22 campaign.
The Knicks have been quiet for most of the summer, but that changed on Wednesday. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks are expected to sign former All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, who will become an unrestricted free agent after his buyout with the Oklahoma City Thunder becomes official.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti has reportedly negotiated the buyout with Walker’s agents, which is no small feat. Walker still had two years and $74 million remaining on his contract, but he is expected to sacrifice quite a bit of that cash in exchange for the right to hit the free-agent market.
The Knicks, who have about $10 million left in available cap space, are expected to sign Walker to a one-year pact worth $8 million for next season. Walker was sent from the Boston Celtics to Oklahoma City back in June in exchange for former All-Star center Al Horford. Oklahoma City also nabbed the No. 16 pick in the 2021 draft in the deal, which was subsequently shipped to the Houston Rockets on draft night.
Knicks Fighting for Playoff Relevance
The 31-year-old Walker was never expected to play a major role in the Thunder’s plans moving forward. Oklahoma City is in the process of an aggressive rebuild, and taking on Walker’s salary in the trade with Boston was simply the cost of business for acquiring the 16th pick in the draft. That pick was later traded to Houston in exchange for two future first-rounders.
On Tuesday, the Thunder signed point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to a five-year contract extension worth $172 million. Gilgeous-Alexander is the core piece in the Thunder’s rebuilding process after arriving two years ago in the trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers. OKC is also expected to give heavy playing time to young guards including Theo Maledon, Tre Mann, and Luguentz Dort next season.
Rather than playing empty minutes on a rebuilding team, Walker will now get to head back to his hometown to try and help the Knicks compete for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Walker will join fellow newcomer and former Celtics teammate Evan Fournier in the Knicks’ new-look backcourt as they try to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish in the East hierarchy.
Earlier this week, Fournier signed a four-year deal worth $78 million with the Knicks. The Frenchman began last season with the Magic before being traded to Walker’s Celtics before the deadline. The Knicks have also re-signed veterans Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, and Alec Burks in an attempt to remain relevant next season.
Walker an Upgrade Over Payton
Whether Walker can rebound from a lost season remains to be seen, but even a lesser version of Kemba is an upgrade for the Knicks over Elfrid Payton. Walker averaged 19.3 points per game last season across 43 games for Boston after missing the first month of the season with a knee injury. However, he was forced to miss the last two games of the Celtics’ loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs with a bone bruise in that same left knee.
Walker originally signed a four-year, $141 million contract with the Celtics in 2019 after starting his career in Charlotte.
While the move may solidify the Knicks’ spot in next year’s Eastern Conference playoffs, New York remains a long shot to get much further than that. BetOnline has the Knicks at +4500 to win the championship, which puts them on par with teams like the Celtics (+4000) and Bulls (+5000). The Thunder, meanwhile, are tied with the Rockets for the worst odds of any team to win the championship next season at +500000.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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