CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gulp.
If you listen closely, you can hear Charlotte Hornets fans reacting to the possibility of Kemba Walker leaving the Queen City in free agency. According to a report from ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the Boston Celtics have emerged as the leader to sign the three-time All-Star.
Other rumored teams in the mix for Walker include the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers.
Walker, who has spent the first eight seasons of his career with Charlotte, is an unrestricted free agent for the first time. Wojnarowski reported Thursday that Walker is expected to be offered a four-year, $141 million contract to sign with Boston. That's less than what Charlotte can offer; because of his All-NBA status, the Hornets can present Walker with a five-year, "supermax" contract worth $221 million.
The only problem with that, is the Hornets are in a major salary cap pickle. Signing Walker to the supermax would put the team at or near the luxury tax, which would cost owner Michael Jordan millions of dollars. NBC Charlotte Sports Director Nick Carboni speculated on Twitter that Charlotte's offer is likely much less than the supermax and is probably the best financial decision for the team. In turn, Walker will consider his options, which include leaving Charlotte.
Earlier this week, it was reported by multiple NBA writers that Boston would make a run at Walker. Walker said a fifth year is important to be him and he'd be willing to work with Charlotte to take less money, but is also open to playing for another team.
"This is where I want to be and if it doesn't work out, it just doesn't," Walker said at his camp in early June. "I'm prepared (to play somewhere else)."
The NBA salary cap for the 2019-20 season is $109 million, according to Sports Illustrated. Any money spent on player salaries over $132 million means a team has to pay the league's luxury tax. The Hornets are currently at about $97.5 million without Walker on the books for next season and beyond.
NBA free agency officially begins Sunday at 6 p.m.