The Charlotte Hornets made some big changes this offseason, not necessarily changes they were hoping to make. Kemba Walker remains the team’s go to guy and biggest star, but he knows quite well that letting Jeremy Lin leave through free agency might be costly in the long run.
During last season, we sometimes compared Walker to two other dominant teammates Lin had in the past: James Harden and Kobe Bryant. Walker is another ball dominant guard who shared the backcourt with Lin, although Lin was a backup of Walker’s at times, and sometimes his oncourt partner, depending on the situation. Unlike Harden and Bryant, Walker’s dominance, and the coach’s tendencies to give him the ball no matter what, didn’t hurt the Hornet’s team chemistry. Walker didn’t force himself into the role he got from Steve Clifford and Michael Jordan. This was more of the higher ups navigating him towards it, even if it wasn’t the best thing for the Hornets at times.
In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, speaking to Rick Bonnell, Walker talked about his role in inspiring kids, social justice (he also wrote an article for The Players Tribune), and a little bit about players leaving. The Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee and Jeremy Lin to free agency. Walker focused on the loss of Lin, who joined the Brooklyn Nets to become the starting point guard there.
It sucks. But that’s the business: You’re always going to play with some new guys every year. You think about Big Al, who I wish we could have kept. He helped change this franchise around big time from the day he got here. I hate to see him (Lin) go, but at the same time I’m definitely happy for him. He deserves to be a starter in this league. He’s such a great player and he proved that last season. There were games where I was off and he carried the team.
Walker’s words point out two things: That Walker didn’t feel threatened by Lin, despite the two somewhat stepping on the same spot on the floor. The Hornets might not have given Lin the deserving role and minutes, but that was impossible with Walker as the guy they were pushing to the spotlight. But in many games last season, the Hornets were bailed out by Lin and the second unit. It happened in all their big wins: Celtics, Raptors, Cavaliers, Spurs. It happened when the Hornets turned the playoff series on its head and won three straight games, before Clifford went in the predictable, disastrous direction.
The Hornets didn’t bring in bad players, and if both Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are healthy next season, things might actually be pretty good. But they built their team on some very shaky, maybe even unreliable foundations, including bringing in someone like Roy Hibbert, who seems broken beyond repair for over a season now. There’s certainly no one to take over what Lin did for the team last season, and that might end up being the difference from a fantastic season (by their standards) in 2015-2016, and a disappointing one.