The Kemba-Horford deal should work for both the Celtics and Thunder


Kemba Walker is headed to Oklahoma City.

Kemba Walker is headed to Oklahoma City.
Photo: Getty Images

Admit it. You woke up not knowing that NBA teams not currently playing could make trades during the playoffs. Don’t feel bad — a lot of people learned that today, in a startling way.

The Boston Celtics traded Kemba Walker, along with the 16th overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft and a 2025 second-round selection, to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford, Moses Brown, and a 2023 second-rounder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. It’s Brad Stevens’ first transaction as the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.

For Boston, the move follows reports of a contentious relationship between Walker and the organization following previous efforts by former President of Basketball Ops Danny Ainge to trade him. It was the continuation of a theme in the eyes of other NBA general managers, with Ainge attempting to distastefully part ways with a fallen star, NBA reporter Ric Bucher told Colin Cowherd earlier this year.

“A lot of GMs are ticked off at Danny because Danny tried like hell to move Kemba at the beginning of the year, knowing that his knee wasn’t right,” Bucher told Cowherd. “He was trying to get rid of damaged goods. That’s the issue that Kemba is dealing with, and at his size, it’s a little bit like Isaiah Thomas.”

In the NBA, you trade contracts as much as you trade players, and the money was evidently a significant reason for the Celtics executing the deal. Walker is due $36 million this coming 2021-22 season, with a player option for $37.6 million. Horford is owed $27 million next year, with $26.5 million more to come the following season.

Through the first 40 games of the 2019-20 season, Walker’s first in Boston, he had been averaging 22.4 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.0 rebounds on 45/40/88 shooting splits, and was an All-Star starter representing the Eastern Conference two weeks later. It was around that time that Walker’s knee became a hindrance for the UConn alum. Following the All-Star Game itself, which was played on February 16 — and in which Walker played 29 minutes — he averaged 14.4 points, 3.8 assists, and 2.8 rebounds on 40/34/85 splits, including six regular-season Bubble games. In the playoffs last year, he elevated to 19.6 points, five assists, and four rebounds on 44/31/85 in the Celtics’ 17 postseason games before they were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. This season, Walker was limited to 43 games, in which he averaged 19.3 points, 4.9 assists, and 4 rebounds on 42/36/90 splits.

The Celtics also land an intriguing young center in Moses Brown, who is on an overly team-friendly contract. The UCLA and Archbishop Molloy High School (Queens, NY) alum went undrafted in 2019 and subsequently signed with the Portland Trail Blazers, where he only played in nine games. He was brought on to the OKC Thunder this year, where he logged 43 appearances and made 32 starts, averaging 8.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game. During the season, the 21-year-old had 12 double-doubles and three 20-15 games, including a 21-point, 23-rebound outing against Boston on March 27. He’s due to make $1.7 million next year and more than $1.8 million the following season, and he has a team option for just under $2 million in 2022-23.

As for Horford, he reunites with the team he earned his most recent All-Star bid with and spent 2016-2019 on as their starting center. The Puerto Plata native averaged 13.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 4.6 assists on 50/38/80 shooting in three seasons with the Celtics. This year, he started all his 28 appearances with OKC and was apparently playing too well, so they sent him home. He posted 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game on 45/37/82 shooting.

And for the Thunder, this deal gives them three first-round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, which will be held on July 29. It also awards them a total of 36 picks — 18 first-rounders and 18 second-rounders — over the next seven drafts.

Walker could be flipped before even next season begins, or they could rebuild his value and move him before the deadline first. It wouldn’t even be a shock to see the Thunder deal Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for even more picks, but for now, they have an intriguing backcourt. You just might not wanna count on them being together for that long, one way or another, even if they do begin the season on the same team.

The picks sound great; the Thunder just have to do something with them at some point. Using a few of them to land the next disgruntled star to pair with SGA might be ideal, which might already be the plan for Sam Presti and the OKC front office.


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