OKLAHOMA CITY — Kemba Walker, we hardly knew ye.
The sentiment of that old Irish ballad is very appropriate when it comes to Walker and the Thunder.
Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti traded for Walker in June, obtaining him from Boston but ostensibly to get rid of his own bad contract in Al Horford and pick up an extra first-round draft pick in the deal. That’s how desperate Brad Stevens was to remove Walker and his arthritic left knee from the Celtics when he took over as team president.
The deal went down on June 18 and speculation immediately arose that the rebuilding Thunder would peddle Walker’s two-year, $74 million contract by the season opener.
According to an NBA executive, Walker spent about a week in OKC after the trade with physicals, meeting staff, working out with a Thunder trainer and posing for promos in a light blue Thunder jersey.
In fact, a Google search shows you can still buy different editions of Walker’s Thunder jerseys online. (It would be epic if a trolling OKC fan wears one New Year’s Eve at Paycom Center upon the Knicks visit).
Walker never played a game with the Thunder but Friday night he is back in a Knicks uniform after retaking the starting point guard job. You shouldn’t expect a video tribute, though.
Presti had little success finding a smart deal for Walker, mostly because of the massive amount of money left on his contract.
Thanks to diligent work by his prominent New York agent, Jeff Schwartz, once free agency began, Walker got back home to New York. According to a source, Walker’s reps at Excel Management helped broker an arrangement in keeping in contact with both the Knicks and Thunder.
The Knicks had a league-high cap space available and no evident point guard to spend it on once free agents Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and Spencer Dinwiddie were spoken for. (The Knicks were not interested in Lonzo Ball).
By giving up $20 million in a buyout package, Walker was able to recoup a lot of it by signing a two-year, $18 million deal with his hometown team to fulfill a Bronx drseam.
Walker wouldn’t have given up that much cash in any other scenario in a buyout. And Presti realized Walker’s trade value wasn’t high and he wasn’t a fit with Shai-Gilgeous-Alexander as the Thunder’s starting point guard.
Walker’s tale as a Knick has many chapters left in it after he emerged from a nine-game benching by coach Tom Thibodeau in a move that raised eyebrows in the locker room and around the league.
Walker will start his seventh straight game Friday after capturing Eastern Conference Player of The Week after a 29-point restart in Boston, a 44-point night against the Wizards and a Christmas Day triple-double in a win over the Hawks.
Walker has been quiet the past two outings in Minnesota and Detroit, scoring 10 and two points, respectively. Opponents are now blitzing him furiously at the perimeter and he’s been able to make the right play.
The Knicks did not shootaround in OKC on Friday morning because of NBA protocols and no players were being made available for comment before the game.
“Kemba, getting out there, I think people are being aggressive with him in the pick and roll, which is good for us in the sense that any time you get two on the ball if we make the right plays it’s easy offense. I thought we did,’’ Thibodeau said after the Detroit win.
“Kemba doesn’t fight pressure. He’ll get rid of it quick and we can move it quick and we’re going to get a great shot off of that. But we missed some of those shots.’’
The Knicks record since Walker’s return is 4-2 and they are on a three-game winning streak. They were 2-7 sans Walker, who is where he belongs.