Just 20 games into the new season, Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks benched arguably their biggest offseason acquisition in Kemba Walker. New York signed the four-time All-Star to help bolster the offense from the point guard position, but watched lineups featuring him struggle on both ends until a change had to be made.
Whether the move is the correct one at the right time remains to be seen, but now eyes turn to Walker’s future with the team, which is suddenly in jeopardy. Though early reports say he’s accepted the benching and isn’t looking for a way out, it’s worth exploring his trade market.
Walker may not sit with being a third-string option for long, while the Knicks would rather get something for him than let him wither on the pine when another team could use his services. This can’t be resolved until Dec. 15, when newly signed free agents can be traded.
Which team would take this gamble after such an uninspired stint?
It would need to be a franchise desperately seeking out additional scoring and creation in the backcourt at the cost of defense and some consistency. Walker shot 41.3 percent from deep, many of which were off the pick-and-roll, before being benched. Unfortunately his driving and free throw attempts are at career lows.
Perhaps a team like the Dallas Mavericks, seeking out additional help for Luka Doncic, would be interested. Their star’s secondary offensive playmakers are Jalen Brunson and a mix of Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s best nights.
Walker would provide somewhat of a scoring and handling punch from the one, for a return Knicks fans would enjoy. One trade that matches up cap-wise is Walker in return for Reggie Bullock and/or Frank Ntilikina, two contributors to last year’s Knicks.
Remember the Oklahoma City Thunder bought out Walker after trading for him and before he signed with the Knicks. Meaning that his over $30 million contract isn’t what’s being dealt, but his new two-year deal at $9 million per.
Hence the John Wall chatter should remain just that. Wall is owed over $40 million a year, so if the Knicks wanted to swap him and Walker, they’d have to throw in a number of their larger contracts, such as Julius Randle, Evan Fournier or Derrick Rose.
That is obviously a non-starter. There’s certainly an argument for Wall, as equally washed as he might be, to replace Walker. He’s got much more size and defense to offer and can be considered a better playmaker.
A better place to look might be the Lakers, reeling from a host of injuries and getting little spacing from their point guard position. It’s a realistic destination for older, talented players known for their former glory and the Knicks should be happy with getting Kendrick Nunn back as a flier.
A team underperforming relative to expectations should be New York’s best bet for a deal like this. San Antonio’s guard rotation is prepubescent and they have some unutilized vets to trade.
However this situation resolves itself, it will ultimately be a quick, sad close to what was an enticing chapter of Knicks basketball. Fans hoped they finally had a point guard to rely on and now the team isn’t starting one. What looked like a heartwarming homecoming story is now another bad blip in a long line of swing-and-miss transactions for this franchise.
Maybe all of this is moot and Walker remains a Knick, happily contributing spot minutes when guys get hurt or improving to the point of reclaiming his starting job. If not, fans shouldn’t expect much in return for Kemba.