Suns need to heavily consider trading for Kemba Walker, just not yet
All Devin Booker wants to do as the Phoenix Suns’ face of the franchise is win, and with the season he’s having right now, he’s ready to do that.
The trouble is, the rest of the roster around him is not.
Putting pieces around Booker to help him succeed and keep him happy as the Valley’s next superstar is the crucial followthrough general manager Ryan McDonough must have.
So, when Charlotte Hornets All-Star point guard Kemba Walker reportedly becomes available according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, it’s easy to connect the dots, just like when Kyrie Irving was available.
Both situations are different in multiple ways, but where they share a similarity is simple: Get Booker his running mate and go win 40 games next season to contend for a playoff spot.
That makes a trade for Walker seem like the right course of action for McDonough and his front office, but there are several factors to consider before committing to Walker.
The most important is Walker’s age and contract situation.
Walker will be 29 years old when his $12 million salary expires in the summer of 2019 and he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
At that age, unless he harnesses the almighty power LeBron James possesses to continue getting better in his 15th season, Walker is signing his last contract in his prime.
That means that Walker will want to get paid as much as possible, and discounts are not a thing in these situations. Just ask the Diamondbacks how negotiations are going with J.D. Martinez at the moment if you are seeking more clarity.
There is risk involved.
Walker could re-up with the Suns, only to regress over the course of his contract. He could also choose to not even re-sign with the Suns and now the Suns gave up trade chips for a rental.
This alone has many simply crossing Walker off their hypothetical lists of potential Suns trade targets.
That, quite simply, is foolishness.
Walker is a top-10 point guard in the NBA at the moment, a spot he should hold until he’s at least 30 years old, barring some unforeseen decline and/or injury.
Averaging 20 points a game for the third straight season, Walker is a lethal scorer who has improved drastically as a shooter since he was drafted ninth overall in 2011. While down to 35 percent this year on seven attempts a game from 3-point range this year, he posted a 40 percent number last season and 37 percent the year prior.
Those quick to point at Charlotte’s 18-25 record must realize Charlotte is 17.3 points better per 100 possessions when Walker is on the court, per nba.com, a sky-high number that points to the rest of his team being more of the problem.
Walker has been the heart and soul of the Hornets, leading them to the playoffs in 2013-14 and again in 2015-16. He plays with loads of passion and has the type of personality fans will become attached to instantly. He checks all the boxes in that regard.
A player like that is going to be maximized in a situation like Phoenix’s and a player of Walker’s skill exploding with emotion when he plays will be seamless next to guys like Booker, Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson, who play with that same mentality.
Having a great NBA point guard and a better team as a result of acquiring Walker will also help the team’s younger players grow at a quicker rate, something the Suns need, like, right now.
To cover all the angles here, Walker lacks the dynamic ability of someone like Irving. He likes to score with jumpers off the bounce, doesn’t mind dribbling out possessions and isn’t your typical “pass-first point guard.” That’s not the ideal player to put next to Booker fit-wise.
There’s also absolutely zero guarantees the Suns can land a point guard that is as good as or better than Walker in the Booker era.
Better yet, the Suns have the assets to easily attain a player on Walker’s price tag.
Owning all their draft picks, two first-round picks from Miami and another from Milwaukee is an important note we have to always bring up when trades are discussed.
The x-factor here is what the Hornets want to accomplish in trading Walker.
Do they want to unload some of their long-term contracts, such as Nic Batum’s four-year deal on over $24 million a year or Cody Zeller’s four year deal on over $13 million a year? If so, the Suns are not their team.
Are they looking to get serious value back for Walker, despite the chance of him being rental? If so, the Suns are not their team.
If, however, the Hornets are looking to get value for Walker before he possibly bolts in 2019 and take a headstart on a rebuild, the Suns could be their team.
A package built primarily around one or two of those aforementioned first-round picks, fortified by protections on the top-10, should be of interest to McDonough. Any mention of the word “unprotected” or players like Dragan Bender, Chriss or Jackson, though, and Phoenix should nip that immediately.
The timing of a deal, like something centered around Miami’s top-7 protected first-round pick this year and the Suns’ top-10 protected first round pick next year, is of the utmost importance.
First and foremost, the Suns should not do this deal now. It would only hurt their first-round draft pick’s positioning this year, and that is their most valuable asset outside of Booker by a wide margin at the moment.
Secondly, they need to wait and see how the draft unfolds at the top.
Is a point-guard prospect they are in on like Luka Doncic, Trae Young or Collin Sexton available when they pick? If that’s the case, then Phoenix should pick that player and go away from Kemba.
If, let’s say, they pick a big man like Deandre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba, or Marvin Bagley III, then making that type of offer for Walker makes a whole lot of sense.
You lose two picks that, quite honestly, don’t matter much given the talent on the roster and get a one-year test run with Walker before potentially committing to him long-term.
Yes, possibly paying Walker $16-20 million a year over three-to-four years is scary, but you know what’s scarier? Booker becoming unhappy because he’s winning under 35 games again and again while representing the team at the NBA Draft Lottery.
Yes, there’s a chance the Suns will be just fine without someone like Walker and the rebuild will flourish, but there’s also a minimal chance that what Phoenix gives up in the aforementioned proposed price range would have changed that.
In one writer’s opinion, the worst-case scenario is Walker giving the Suns the bump they need next season to start winning 35-40 games and a stay longer than that doesn’t work out. At the age of 23, Booker and a more developed young core around him should be ready to keep that train rolling upward towards playoff basketball.
Walker is a rental the Suns have to heavily consider. They should not act before Feb. 8’s trade deadline, but they have to keep him as a possibility in the back of their mind on draft night.