Celtics trade Kemba Walker to the Thunder: What it means for the 2021/22 NBA season

Kemba Walker playing for the Boston Celtics
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Andrew Ortenberg

NBA

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I'm an editor here at Pickswise who was raised in a household full of sports fanatics. Since I unfortunately never had LeBron James' jumping ability I wasn't able to make it to the NBA, and chose writing about sports as the next best thing. An avid sports bettor myself, I'm excited to get to write about the industry as it gets set to take off across the country. Buckle up.

The NBA conference finals haven’t even started yet, and we’re already getting trades that remake the landscape for the 2021/22 NBA season. The Celtics traded away Kemba Walker on Friday, sending him and a first-round pick to the Thunder in exchange for Al Horford.

It’s a continuation of an offseason of change for the Celtics, as Brad Stevens has already shifted from head coach to head of basketball operations. Boston has had a tumultuous couple of years, and the rollercoaster continued on Friday. Let’s break down what the trade means for each team, and the upcoming NBA season.

What the trade means for the Boston Celtics

The Celtics had championship aspirations entering this season, and things didn’t go as planned. That’s putting it nicely. The year was mostly a disaster, so it’s not surprising to see them blowing things up. It was less than two years ago that they gave Kemba Walker a max deal, and now he’s gone.

It’s an admission they made a big mistake giving him that contract. The trade also shows that Brad Stevens is serious about remaking his roster in a hurry. They don’t want to let these years of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown go to waste. For a few reasons, I like the move.

Walker is a ball-handler who doesn’t do much other than volume score. The Celtics are much better off with the ball in Tatum or Brown’s hands, and Walker’s skills are redundant. Boston is better served with someone like Horford who can facilitate and isn’t another ball-handler.

Horford obviously had a lot of success with the Celtics in years past, and could thrive back in Boston. He was better than expected with a tanking Oklahoma City team in 2020, and the Celtics were severely lacking front-court depth this season.

No matter what you think of Horford, Stevens needed to do something bold. The old formula simply wasn’t working, and with how tough the top of the East is now it was time to go back to the drawing board. It might not work, and more moves will come, but the Celtics are clearly serious about winning in 21/22.

 Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker (8) drives to the basket against Brooklyn Nets power forward Blake Griffin (2) during the first quarter of game two of the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center.

© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What the trade means for the Oklahoma City Thunder

It’s another coup for Sam Presti and his seemingly infinite stockpile of draft picks. Presti got a first-rounder for the Thunder by taking on Horford’s contract from Philly. Now he just got another first-rounder in exchange for Horford.

The move made sense for the Celtics, but it made even more sense for OKC. Now the question becomes what they’ll do with Walker. They could keep him, and move Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to shooting guard. But even if Walker plays to his absolute ceiling the team isn’t anywhere close to championship contention, and Presti knows that.

As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if he waited a little bit and then tried to flip Walker. Presti is a true wizard when it comes to wheeling and dealing. He’ll continue to flip veterans while racking up picks, and I’m expecting another rebuild year for the Thunder.

The core is still so young that there’s no pressure to win now in a stacked Western Conference. OKC mostly rested Horford down the stretch, so there was nothing to lose by getting a first-rounder for him. Walker is a bad contract, but Presti has never met a bad contract he isn’t able to turn into something else.

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