It was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski early Friday morning that Kemba Walker had been traded to Oklahoma City (in addition to the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft and a 2025 second-round pick) for Al Horford, Moses Brown, and a 2023 second-round pick.
Seemingly a trade centered around cap space, this trade exchanges two exorbitant contracts for each other with other incentives attached to the deal. Wojnarowski also noted that the Thunder would work with Walker on what is next in his career as they did with Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and, most recently, Al Horford. Unless OKC accumulates an incredible draft haul this year and is pushing for the playoffs, it’s unlikely that Walker is a part of their long-term plans. Whether Walker is traded before the beginning of the season or before the deadline remains uncertain.
With Walker’s extensive contract worth $36M next season, people are quick to assume that he weighs the team value down. This is solely accurate in regards to cap space. As a player on the court for the Celtics, Boston’s net points per 100 possessions were 3.4 points better when Kemba was on the floor. The other problem, however, is Walker’s availability to even be on the floor. Kemba is small in comparison to the rest of the NBA. At 31, 184 pounds, and standing 6’0 tall, explosiveness and speed are essential. With Walker’s lingering knee problems, beating defenders off the dribble with speed and quickness is quite the challenge. It is also a concern given the fact that Boston had to include the number 16th overall pick in the draft for someone to take Walker. Despite Horford’s $27M contract, this is a small win in the cap space department for the Celtics, as Moses Brown’s 3-year $5.5M contract keeps costs down for Boston.
Al Horford is not washed, he can still help the Celtics playoff aspirations. This season, the Thunder were 6.1 points per 100 possessions better when Horford played. In addition to that, being a 30 or older center versus a 30 or older point guard will certainly age better for the center. Horford shot a career-high 42.2% of his total shots from three last year, and although he is 35 and that number is expected to rise, the Celtics will desire for Horford to spend the bulk of his time in the paint instead of the perimeter. With upcoming young shooters in Nesmith and Pritchard, plus other capable options in Tatum, Brown, etc., Horford will be expected to facilitate from the paint as he has in his 13 years in the NBA. He is smart, quick, and deliberate with his passes. I have noticed several times this season where he has thrown in a touch pass or two within a second of receiving the ball right to an open teammate in the corner. The Celtics will welcome this, as assists and ball movement were hard to come by throughout this season.
Now to detail the overlooked player in the exchange, Moses Brown. At 7’2, 245 pounds with a 9’3 standing reach, Brown is incredible at defending the rim. After a successful defensive possession, he runs the floor with the guards and is in place to catch a lob, finish underneath following a pass, or clean up a miss with a putback. He is extremely athletic, and while he is remarkably mobile, he bodies opponents in the paint. Brown, as stated above, is notably affordable and the only predicament for the Celtics will be figuring out the rotation in the frontcourt.
Finally, how will the Celtics make up for the lost starting point guard role? They are in desperation for any source of playmaking, and 100% of that comes from Marcus Smart. Smart, who was the lead distributor for Oklahoma State and entered the league as a point guard, could flourish in the role of a lead playmaker for the Celtics. The scoring pressure is non-existent because of the stars in Tatum and Brown, he doesn’t have to be concerned about shooting, although he will be expected to knock down the occasional catch and shoot three which he is well capable of accomplishing, this leaves 90% of his energy to progress towards playmaking and defense. Smart isn’t a number one option for a point guard in the NBA, but due to the lack of point guards hitting free agency and the price of the available ones, Boston will likely go with an already rostered Smart.