Kemba Walker was drafted with the 9th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats then re-branded after Walker’s third season, to the Charlotte Hornets. The Bronx native spent 8 seasons in Charlotte before leaving for the Boston Celtics in the 2018-19 offseason. Walker left in a sign-and-trade that saw Boston trade promising young guard Terry Rozier.
Revisiting the Kemba Walker-Terry Rozier Swap
How did Walker Fare in Boston?
The two sides completed the trade on July 6, 2019, over 3 years ago. Just to revisit the details of the trade, Kemba Walker wanted to sign a max contract. Charlotte didn’t want to pay the 29-year-old Walker that kind of money, but signed him to the contract and traded him to the Boston Celtics. In return, Charlotte got back 25-year old Terry Rozier, a promising young guard.
The Hornets and Celtics also swapped second-round picks in the deal, but neither have made an impact. The Hornets selected guard Grant Riller, who only suited up in 7 games for Charlotte before falling out of the league. The Celtics drafted draft-and-stash prospect Yam Madar, who has yet to play for the team.
From what we know today, the Hornets are now clear winners in this trade. Walker had an amazing first half in his first season with Boston, and was named an NBA All-Star starter for his efforts. However, things quickly soured. Walker struggled in the second half of the season with a knee injury, and his production dropped off considerably. The playoffs were no better, with Walker shooting just 31 percent from three and he was noticeably hobbled.
In his second season with Boston, it was much of the same. The UConn product only played in 43 of a possible 72 games that season, missing the first 11 games with recurring knee issues. In the playoffs, he averaged just 12.7 points on 31 percent shooting from the field and 17 percent from three. He only played in 3 games as Boston bowed out of the playoffs in 5 games to the Brooklyn Nets. After just two disappointing seasons in Beantown, he was flipped to the OKC Thunder in a salary dump.
Rozier Thrives in Charlotte
It must have been a tough pill for Celtics fans to swallow while they watched Rozier play in Charlotte. Sure, the Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals while the Hornets missed the playoffs in the first season after the trade. That small taste of success had many calling the trade a steal for Boston. That narrative quickly flipped the following season, as Rozier enjoyed a breakout season.
In the 2020-21 season, Rozier averaged 20.4 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and nearly 39 percent from three, all career-highs. Rozier’s durability and reliability also shined over Walker, as Rozier played in 69 games to Walker’s 43 that season. Last season especially is where the trade could sting for Boston management and its fans.
Walker secured a buyout with the Thunder shortly after the trade, and signed with the New York Knicks that same offseason. Expectations were high, but Walker failed to match them and then some. He only played in 37 games before falling out of the rotation, and was shut down in February. At the time of writing, he is still currently a free agent.
Rozier on the other hand, proved his breakout campaign was no fluke. Over 73 games last season, he averaged 19.3 points on 44 percent shooting from the field and 37 percent from three. While his efficiency dropped slightly, he cut down his turnovers by over half a game, and jumped up to 4.5 assists per game. He also continued to make his mark on defense, grabbing 1.3 steals per game.
Rozier signed a max extension with Charlotte in the 2021 offseason, a contract that cements Charlotte as the clear winners of the trade. Boston swung for the fences, and clearly missed. The Celtics got two injury-plagued seasons of Walker in exchange for 3 great seasons of Rozier, which is clearly not ideal. No one knows what Rozier will accomplish for the rest of his career, but it doesn’t matter in this trade. Anything else Rozier does is extra icing on the cake, and extra satisfaction behind an excellent piece of buisness.
It Gets Worse for Boston…
Additionally, it also gets better for Charlotte. If recent rumors have any truth behind them, this trade could pop up in the news again. As mentioned above, Walker is still looking for his next team. A recent report from Athletic writer Shams Charania suggests that a potential reunion with Walker could be in the works.
He’s not the 20+ point-per-game scorer he used to be, but he could still help Charlotte with their bench scoring. Walker could show he’s still got it, and a one-year “prove-it” deal would do just that. If Walker does end up signing back with Charlotte, it’s an extra stain on an already awful trade for Boston.
If it happens, there’s more to that ugly story. In the Thunder trade, the Celtics attached a 2021-first round pick to get rid of Walker’s contract. In exchange, they received center Moses Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick. Boston then flipped Brown for veteran Josh Richardson. Keep following this, there’s plenty more.
The Celtics then used Richardson to help trade for defensive guard Derrick White. In that trade, Boston gave up two first-round picks, one in 2022 and one in 2028. They also flipped wing Romeo Langford, who was a lottery selection. Basically, Boston started with just Rozier.
But by the time it was all said and done, they got back Al Horford and Derrick White. Now sure, those two were key players in Boston’s NBA Finals run this year, but still. Boston gave up a budding young star, three first round picks, and a lottery selection for those two players. With that in mind, it leaves one question to be asked.
Was it All Worth It?
Boston gave up a lot to get where they are as a franchise today. A team doesn’t make it to the NBA Finals on accident, so the Celtics must have done something right. Boston’s championship window is still wide open, so it’s acceptable that they didn’t win this year. If Boston wins it all in the next few seasons, they undoubtedly come out of this trade as winners.
The final verdict on this trade is that the Hornets won. They got a building block for the future, and may just reunite with their former franchise star.
However, the Celtics can also be viewed as winners. Even if they haven’t won it all yet, that’s not to say they won’t. Their roster could rival any team in the league right now, and it still have plenty of room to grow. This is a rare case where both teams win, despite strong public opinion both ways.
The narrative about this trade has flipped back and forth over time, but that’s natural. If there’s anything the NBA has preached, it’s that it is constantly changing. This trade is symbolic of that, and is one of the more memorable swaps in recent NBA history.