Kemba Walker: Future with Charlotte Hornets 'out of my control'
STEVE REED | Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kemba Walker knows his future with the Charlotte Hornets is up in the air.
But the two-time All-Star said he’s not going to spend the offseason dwelling on where he’ll be playing next season.
Walker has one year remaining on a four-year, $48 million contract and while he’d like to remain with the Hornets – where he’s the franchise’s all-time leading scorer – he knows nothing is for certain after a second straight non-playoff season prompted team owner Michael Jordan to hire Mitch Kupchak as the new general manager.
That means that if Kupchak decides a massive rebuilding project is in order, Walker could be the first one out the door given he’s the team’s biggest bargaining chip and has a favorable contract.
“I have no idea,” Walker said Wednesday regarding his future after Charlotte’s regular season finale. “That is out of my control. I am just going to focus on getting better as a player. That is really all you can do. I don’t know what they are going to do.”
The 6-foot-1 Walker is coming off three tremendous seasons in Charlotte where he has averaged more than 20 points and five assists per game.
Walker, who led Connecticut to a national championship, has never won a playoff series since his arrival in Charlotte six seasons ago.
Kupchak offered no hints over the team’s plans with Walker during an introductory press conference on Tuesday.
“My understanding is he is great in the locker room and great in the community,’ Kupchak said. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to have a player like that going forward.”
Other things to know about the Hornets heading into the offseason:
NOT GOING THERE: While some other star players have been outspoken about what their team needs personnel-wise to get better, Walker refused to go down that path. “I don’t want to answer that question because it could get real ugly,” Walker said. “I will leave it up to the guys upstairs.”
CLIFFORD’S FUTURE: Coach Steve Clifford said he felt this was the most talented team he’s had with the Hornets, which made finishing 10 games under .500 all the more disappointing. His future with the team remains uncertain after his teams have failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs the last five seasons.
“The NBA is about winning in the playoffs, so if you want to look back at our five years I do feel very good about where we are and how we are perceived versus where it was five years ago,” Clifford said. “We made great gains. To be relevant and respected in this league is a long way from where we started.”
HOWARD’S BIG SEASON: Hornets center Dwight Howard enjoyed an impressive bounce back season with Charlotte individually, averaging 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots in 81 games after struggling to find his way in Houston and Atlanta the previous two years resulting in him being traded twice. “This year really showed a lot of people this guy really takes this game seriously,” said Howard, who finished with a franchise-record 53 double-doubles.
PLAYING WITH HOWARD: While Howard excelled, several players had to learn to adjust their games to play with him, including Nic Batum. He excelled with Cody Zeller in the pick-and-roll the previous seasons, but Batum spent more time dumping the ball to Howard in the low post and said he had to adjust his own game to play with Howard.
“I thought I feed him the ball a lot inside and play through him because he’s so big and has so much potential inside,” Batum said. “If you have a guy like that you have to use him. … Did I give up a lot of my game? Yes, maybe. But I don’t care as long as it is good for the team.”
HORNETS LACKED SPIRIT: One overriding theme of Clifford’s post-season press conference was that he felt his team lacked “spirit” this season. “We’ve always had spirit,” Clifford said, “but we didn’t have that this year. Some games (we did). But not nearly the togetherness, the spirit that we’ve had for years. And they know that. I’ve let them know. So you do have to look at that and I don’t know what the answer is. But it has to start with me.”