Basketball

In Boston, Kemba Walker talks about ‘taste of winning’ he didn’t get in with Hornets

Former Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker shakes a hand as he leaves an interview at the Celtics’ basketball practice facility Wednesday in Boston.
Former Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker shakes a hand as he leaves an interview at the Celtics’ basketball practice facility Wednesday in Boston. AP

When the Charlotte Hornets chose not to make a financial offer Kemba Walker couldn’t refuse, he went for the thing the Hornets never really gave him.

Consistent winning.

Walker, the Hornets’ all-time scorer, was introduced to Boston on Wednesday as the Celtics’ new point guard. Despite Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak’s pledge in April that the franchise would do “everything we can” to re-sign Walker, the Hornets’ offer came in at less than $170 million over five years.

That wasn’t enough for Walker to pass on $140 million over four years, the most the Celtics could offer. Walker said the Celtics consistently reaching and often advancing in the playoffs carried his decision.

“It really came down to my happiness and how I want to compete night-in and night-out,” Walker said at an introductory news conference in Boston.

“It’s a winning organization, and I want to win. That’s what it’s all about. Throughout my basketball career as a pro, I haven’t won consistently, and I want to get a taste of that.”

Playoff appearances

Since the Hornets drafted Walker ninth overall in 2011, they have made two playoff appearances, not advancing past the first round. In that same span, the Celtics reached the playoffs seven of eight seasons, winning seven playoff series and advancing to three Eastern Conference finals.

Despite that imbalance, Walker said Wednesday the decision to leave Charlotte was hard. This was the first time in Walker’s eight-year NBA career he was a free agent.

“I would definitely say it was one of the hardest decisions of my life. Charlotte is all I know,” Walker said.. “Like I’ve said in the past, I gave that organization everything I’ve had every single night.

“My time was up there. I’m starting a new chapter.”

Walker’s 12,009 points are the most by one player in 30 years of Hornets history. He was a three-time All-Star and voted third-team All-NBA this season. Charlotte will replace him with ex-Celtic Terry Rozier, who signed a three-year, $58 million contract.

Walker’s All-NBA honor complicated the Hornets’ free-agent situation. It qualified Walker for a “supermax” contract worth as much as $221 million over five years, which only the Hornets could offer. Facing a luxury-tax charge owner Michael Jordan wouldn’t approve, the Hornets’ offer was far less — below $170 million, according to an informed source.

Asked July 6 how that offer jibed with his comments in April, Kupchak said the Hornets offered more than other NBA teams could. Kupchak said he wasn’t authorized to exceed the NBA’s luxury-tax line — about $132 million per team this season — in a situation where the Hornets were unlikely to contend in the coming year.

Locked on Walker

The Celtics, knowing All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving wasn’t inclined to re-sign with them, locked in on Walker when free agency commenced June 30.

“I’ve been watching Kemba since he was at (Connecticut). I fell in love with him at the Maui Classic his junior year when the whole world realized how good he was,” said Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.

“I had big respect for him throughout his career. Not just his All-Star appearances, but also who he is as a person and as a teammate. I’m very excited about Kemba.”

Walker said he will always be grateful to Jordan for believing in him out of college after Connecticut won the national championship in 2011.

“He had a great influence on me,” Walker said. “He drafted me, gave me the opportunity to play in this league. Allowed me to play through mistakes, to grow as a person and a man. I love that dude, that’s my guy. We have a great relationship.”

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