The Celtics and Kemba Walker were expected to part ways this offseason.
On Friday, that expectation came to fruition.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Celtics are trading Walker to the Thunder in exchange for a package that will send Al Horford back to Boston after two seasons away from the team.
This move marks the first major one of Brad Stevens’ tenure as Boston’s president of basketball operations. The trade also comes just eight days after Farbod Esnaashari of Bleacher Report reported that Walker and Boston “are likely to move forward from their relationship this offseason in a mutual agreement between the parties.”
Here are the details of the big swap for the Celtics and Thunder.
Kemba Walker trade details, rumors, news
Celtics receive: Al Horford, Moses Brown, 2023 second-round draft pick
Thunder receive: Kemba Walker, 2021 first-round draft pick (No. 16 overall), 2025 second-round pick
This is a far cry from the Jrue Holiday-centered package that the Celtics reportedly tried to trade Walker for last offseason. Per Esnaashari, those 2020 offseason trade rumors are what began to strain Walker’s relationship with the Boston front office.
A source close to Walker said he was hurt by Boston’s efforts to trade him, which created a rift in the Walker-[Danny] Ainge relationship.
Walker averaged 19.3 points and shot 36 percent from three last season, but missed 29 of the Celtics 72 games with knee trouble.
While Ainge is gone, the two sides still thought it was best to part ways. As such, the Celtics sent out one former All-Star in Walker for a package including another former Celtics All-Star, Al Horford.
Horford, 35, averaged 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists for the Thunder last season but sat out the last 28 games as Oklahoma City looked to get their younger talent more playing time during a losing season.
Effectively, the Celtics decided that they’d rather have the 35-year-old Horford and the $53.5 million left on his contract than the 31-year-old Walker and the two years, $73.6 million left on his contract (assuming that he picks up his $37.6 million player option for 2022-23, which he is highly likely to do).
This move will open up a bit of salary cap space for the Celtics, who were pressed up against the luxury tax with Walker on the roster. They had $134 million in salary commitments while the luxury tax threshold for next season is expected to be about $136 million. So, from a monetary standpoint, it makes sense.
However, from an on-court perspective, Horford is no better a fit for the Celtics’ young roster than Walker. With Robert Williams, Tristan Thompson and Brown at the center position, it’s hard to see exactly how Horford fits in. Maybe the team will trade Thompson, but the position would still be a logjam.
As such, the veteran Horford may have trouble finding a role in Boston. And he has had injury issues during his career, playing 72 or fewer games in each of the last five seasons.
The best part of the deal for the Celtics is getting the 21-year-old Brown on the cheap after he averaged 8.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game during his second NBA season. Brown had a 21-point, 23-rebound game against the Celtics during the 2020-21 season, so evidently, Stevens liked what he saw enough to make the move.
Still, this move does little to help the Celtics on the court — even if Walker’s injury issues persist — and it marks the third consecutive offseason that they’ll lose a max-salary player. That’s not a good look for a team that is supposed to be blossoming into an Eastern Conference contender.
For the Thunder, this move is about stockpiling more assets. The team now has 18 first-round picks over the next seven seasons and five of the first 36 picks in the 2021 NBA Draft. And to get this pick, they didn’t sacrifice much.
Horford didn’t play the final 28 games of the season for Oklahoma City as the team looked to test their young talent. The agreement for Horford to sit was mutual with an understanding he would be moved during the offseason.
So, the Thunder offloaded a player that wasn’t going to stay with them to get a former All-Star and a mid-first-round pick. Not bad overall. And while Walker’s trade value has diminished because of a balky knee injury that has limited him to 99 regular-season games the last two years, they still may be able to find a taker for the 31-year-old on the trade market.
If they can do that, then they’ll continue to add to their massive stash of draft picks.