Mitch Kupchak says the Charlotte Hornets plan to do everything they can to keep three-time All-Star Kemba Walker.
The Hornets first-year general manager knows that has become a two-sided equation given Walker is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July and able to choose his next team. The 28-year-old Walker was an All-Star game starter this season and averaged a career-high 25.6 points per game, so he’s expected to be hot commodity when the free agent market opens in July.
“I think this is a place that he wants to be and we’ll do everything that we can to bring him back here,” Kupchak said Friday. “But he is half of the equation.”
For Walker to stay, Kupchak may have to find productive quality pieces to put around him — and quickly.
They’ve struggled to do that in the past with players like Nicolas Batum — who received a five-year, $120 million contract three years ago — failing to live up to expectations.
Walker has said in the past he wants to continue playing for the Hornets and “create something special here” because he loves living in Charlotte. But the 6-foot-1 point guard appeared to slightly back off those statements in recent days, saying repeatedly “I want to win.”
Charlotte has failed to reach the playoffs the past three seasons.
Walker, an NCAA national champion at UConn, has only been to the postseason twice in his eight NBA seasons and has never gotten out of the first round.
Kupchak said he knows Walker is frustrated by losing.
He wants to put more talent around his star player that would make the Hornets a consistent playoff contender, but also knows that won’t be easy.
The Hornets don’t have the money to sign a difference maker in free agency, so Kupchak said the best option is to acquire talent through a trade.
Jeremy Lamb, the team’s second-leading scorer, is an unrestricted free agent while backup center Frank Kaminsky is a restricted free agent. Kupchak said the Hornets “financially are not as flexible as I would like us to be, so there could be some challenges going forward with our free agents.”
Whether anything Kupchak does is enough to convince Walker to re-sign with Charlotte remains to be seen.
But in the meantime Kupchak went out of his way to make sure Walker knows he’s appreciated — and wanted — by the Hornets.
“There has not been a player with this franchise like Kemba Walker,” Kupchack said of the Hornets’ all-time leading scorer. “He is a once in a generation kind of a player and he is fun to watch. He is competitive, he is a good teammate,” Kupchak said. “Those are all qualities that I like to see and I know that people in the organization and our fans like to see in players.”