Knicks free agency: Kemba Walker to sign with New York once Thunder buyout is finalized, per report

The Oklahoma City Thunder are working toward a buyout with four-time All-Star guard Kemba Walker, after which he will sign with the New York Knicks, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Walker, who had three years and $74 million remaining on his contract, was traded to the Thunder in June for a package that sent Al Horford to the Boston Celtics, and it was only a matter of time before Walker ended up elsewhere. 

However, it is surprising that the Thunder and Knicks couldn’t work out a trade for the former Celtic, given OKC’s penchant for collecting draft compensation from every player it trades. That aside, this is a home run signing for New York, as the addition of Walker gives the Knicks that playmaking point guard they were missing to pair alongside All-Star Julius Randle

In New York’s first-round playoff loss against the Atlanta Hawks this past season, the Knicks’ offense often stalled without any shot creators on the floor. It forced them to rely heavily on backup point guard Derrick Rose to play big minutes, and he was eventually pushed into the starting lineup. It also put a great deal of responsibility on Randle’s shoulders to be the primary source of offense, and he struggled mightily in the five-game series. 

Walker’s ability to break players down in isolation while also putting his teammates in the right position to score will benefit Randle and the Knicks greatly. It will also allow Walker to have the ball in his hands the majority of the time, after coming off a two-year stint with the Celtics where the fit between Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown was often clunky. 

With the addition of Walker, this now gives the Knicks a pretty solid lineup with a favorable path to the playoffs again after signing Evan Fournier and returning Randle, R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson to the starting lineup. It also returns Walker back to his home state of New York, where he’s shown a penchant for showing out at Madison Square Garden dating back to his college days. 

On the surface, signing Walker is a great move by the Knicks, but it doesn’t come without some concerns. After playing in every game in his final year with the Charlotte Hornets during the 2018-19 season, Walker has been dealing with knee issues throughout his time with the Celtics. He played 56 out of a possible 72 games in his first season with Boston, and he remained out for the first 11 games of the 2020-21 season. He was also sidelined the last two games of the Celtics’ first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets, and in the first three games of that matchup he struggled heavily to get things going, shooting just 31.7 percent from the field. 

The hope is that Walker’s knee won’t be a problem this upcoming season as he tries to rest up in the offseason, because when he’s fully healthy, he’s still capable of operating at an All-Star level. But when he’s hampered with injuries, it’s tough to watch. The Knicks are obviously banking on the former with Walker.

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