Through three seasons of his career, Kemba Walker has proven himself to be a very solid player. Thought not quite All-Star caliber (yet), most NBA fans would likely agree that he is one of the better starting point guards in the league. Even though his performance last season wasn't as strong as his 2012-13 campaign, Walker is still one of the Charlotte Hornets' biggest assets, especially given that he was still on his rookie contract.
Unfortunately, that last part is a pretty big deal, and Walker's first contract expires at the end of the upcoming season. With a very solid young core being built in Charlotte, you would expect that the Hornets front office would want to keep Walker around, and agree to an extension. What that potential extension might look like depends on a few different factors, including: team salary cap situation, point guard free agency situation, and, perhaps most importantly, what contract extensions or free agent contracts have looked like for similar players. Let's break these down one-by-one.
Team cap situation: Thankfully, the Hornets do not have much to worry about here. According to HoopsHype, the Hornets rank 23rd out of 30 teams in payroll for this season, well below the cap, and that is before next season is taken into account. Four players have their contracts expire after the upcoming season-- Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Gary Neal, and Jeffery Taylor.
While I'd certainly be open to having Neal come back if he performs well this year, Walker is the only must-re-sign here. Although Biyombo would also be a priority in my book, if the price is right. Now, here's where it gets difficult; two more players have opt-outs or player options (HoopsHype doesn't distinguish between the two) after next season: Al Jefferson and Gerald Henderson. Speculation on Henderson's future in Charlotte could be its own longform article, but Al Jefferson is the centerpiece of the team, and barring injury, they will want him to come back. Again, the Hornets are in a favorable situation when it comes to cap space, all things considered. But they will likely need to have another new big contract to consider in addition to Walker's.
Point guard free agents: Likely free agents at the point guard position next summer include Rajon Rondo, Jeremy Lin, Goran Dragic, C.J. Watson, and Steve Nash. The situation will be clearer as we approach July 2015, but it's not a stellar class, though the potential bidding for Dragic's services could be fun. At the moment, it's not likely the Hornets would be terribly interested in pursuing anybody from the free agent class, but this is always a factor worth considering.
Contracts for similar players: Which players, that could be described as being in somewhat similar situations to Kemba Walker and the Hornets, signed extensions or free agent contracts within the past two or three years? Here's a partial list.
- Kyle Lowry (4 years/$48 million)
- Avery Bradley (4 years/$32 million)
- George Hill (5 years/$40 million)
- Brandon Jennings (3 years/$24 million)
- Mario Chalmers (2 years/$8.3 million)
- Jeff Teague (4 years/$32 million)
- Ty Lawson (4 years/$48 million)
- Goran Dragic (4 years/$30 million)
- Jeremy Lin (3 years/$25,123,938) (Seriously)
- Jose Calderon (4 years/$29 million)
- Mike Conley (5 years/$40 million)
That's a pretty big group, and there's some weird/interesting/hilarious-in-retrospect contracts in there. I'm not an expert when it comes to contract projections, but Walker's potential extension could be somewhere in between the $8 million/year given to Bradley, Hill, Teague, and Conley (I am excluding Jennings, because I assume Walker's contract would last longer than three years) and the $12 million/year given to Lawson and Lowry. Most likely it'll be a little closer to the latter group, around four years at about $10 million per year. Some of the factors outlined above will matter to the ultimate figure, but that is my somewhat-educated prediction about what Walker's (hopefully) eventual extension will come out as.