Celtics Emerge As Frontrunner For Kemba Walker

8:58am: The Celtics have made Walker their No. 1 priority and are expected to offer him a four-year, maximum-salary deal when free agency opens on Sunday, Wojnarowski writes in his full story at ESPN.com.

It appears increasingly likely that Kemba will accept that deal, according to Woj, who says that Hornets owner Michael Jordan is “no longer determined to extend far enough financially” to bring back the All-NBA point guard.

8:06am: There are “sizable gaps” in contract negotiations so far between Kemba Walker and the Hornets, resulting in a stalemate between the two sides, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

According to Charania, the lack of progress toward a deal with the Hornets so far has opened a pathway for teams like the Celtics, Mavericks, and Knicks to have a shot at Walker. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports (via Twitter) that Boston has emerged as the frontrunner to the 29-year-old, echoing a Wednesday report.

As we’ve detailed previously, Walker became eligible for a super-max contract by earning a spot on the All-NBA Third Team this spring. That means that the Hornets could offer him up to as much as $221MM over five years. Rival suitors can’t offer more than about $141MM for four years, creating a significant window for Charlotte to outbid their competition without technically maxing out the All-Star guard.

While Walker has said that the Hornets remain his first priority and has indicated he’s open to accepting less than the super-max to return to Charlotte, the club doesn’t have the same strong foundation that teams like the Celtics and Mavs do.

If they re-sign Walker, the Hornets would be up against the tax line and would have trouble adding complementary pieces around him. In Boston, he could team up with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward, while Dallas would give him the chance to join Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks are more of a blank slate, but have the cap flexibility to potentially add a second star to join Walker.

The Celtics can create enough salary for Walker’s maximum salary ($32.7MM) if they renounce Terry Rozier. The Mavs are at about $29MM in projected room and could get to a max slot by waiving and stretching Courtney Lee. The Knicks have enough space for two max deals.

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