Last night, the 2018-19 season came to a close for Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker. Now, the future -- and free agency -- loom for the franchise's all-time leading scorer.
Walker can become a free agent on July 1. The Hornets held their exit interviews today and Walker said he still wants to stick with the only NBA team he's ever known. But he also made it clear that the chance to win will be his top priority entering the summer.
"This is where I want to be, that hasn't changed at all," Walker said in videos posted by Rod Boone of The Athletic. "I want to win. Like I said yesterday, that's something that I'm going to have to really sit down and think about with my family, with my agent, with the people closest to me in my life that will help me make that decision."
Asked Kemba what's most important to him as he makes his decision. Is it winning, money, happiness? pic.twitter.com/Uix0DWPvfx— Rod Boone (@rodboone) April 11, 2019
Kemba said nothing has changed in regards to Charlotte being the place he wants to play pic.twitter.com/jCGDeKCIHZ— Rod Boone (@rodboone) April 11, 2019
He offered little insight into whether he will be back after the Hornets were eliminated from playoff contention last night with a 122-114 loss to the Orlando Magic.
“I’m not sure,” Walker said after the game. “I have a long time to even start thinking about that stuff. Me and my agent, my family, we will discuss that stuff when the time is right.”
However, Walker seemed to leave the door open to leaving, much more so than last September when he said at the Hornets media day that “this is where I want to be. I don’t want to be nowhere else. I want to create something here.”
If last night was Walker’s curtain call in Charlotte, he certainly left Hornets fans with something to remember.
He scored 43 points on 16-of-25 shooting to go along with five assists. “M-V-P!” chants for Walker started midway through the fourth quarter after he scored his 39th point. He left the game to a standing ovation with 1:06 remaining and received a hug from coach James Borrego.
After the game, Walker spent extra time on the floor hugging people. This season, Walker ranked 10th in the NBA in scoring (25.6 points per game), 20th in assists per game (5.9) and scored a career-best 60 points against the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 17.
“I love that kid,” Borrego said of Walker. “He inspires me. I love coaching him, and I look forward to coaching him for many years to come. Obviously it’s a big summer for us, but I believe in Kemba. I believe in that group and I think he was inspired by what he saw here down the stretch” playing alongside the team’s younger players like Miles Bridges and Dwayne Bacon.
Walker's backup, veteran point guard Tony Parker, said during his exit interview Thursday that he is still weighing whether or not to play next season. Parker, a likely future Hall of Famer and former NBA Finals MVP, just finished his 18th season (his first with Charlotte) averaging 9.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg and 3.7 apg in 17.9 mpg. He signed a two-year deal with the Hornets last summer.
Charlotte's loss ended Parker's string of 17 straight playoff appearances. Parker didn’t have a say in the outcome and hasn’t played in the team’s last 13 games as Borrego elected to go with younger players.
Aside from Walker, the Hornets potentially have eight other players who will be free agents this summer.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.