Kemba Walker wants to play, in New York or elsewhere
The New York Knicks have not played well regardless of Kemba Walker’s role this year. It’s unfair to say that he was the problem, but it was clear that his inconsistent play was a problem for the Knicks early on.
With a handful of Knicks in health and safety protocols, Tom Thibodeau had no choice but to play Walker on Saturday night. The vet took advantage of the opportunity by putting up 29 points on 5-for-11 from deep.
Although the Knicks couldn’t pull off the comeback against the Boston Celtics, Walker proved that he still has something left in the tank.
Thibodeau’s decision to bench Walker earlier this year was met with some skepticism, but he stuck to it for nine games. With a shorthanded group on Saturday, Walker’s star shone brightly.
He stayed ready, stayed professional, and took advantage of his first opportunity since his benching. It’s exactly what many expected to see out of the pro’s pro. After the game, Thibs praised the veteran, but he wouldn’t commit to keeping him in the regular rotation.
Tom Thibodeau on Kemba Walker's performance:
"That's what he's supposed to do. He's a pro, great character, played well."
On possibly keeping him in the rotation:
"We'll see. You've got to look at everything in totality." pic.twitter.com/EU6OqbJj3r
— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) December 19, 2021
Walker, on the other hand, hates being bound to the bench. He wants to play and he’s not afraid to make that known.
"I hate it. I want to play."
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 19, 2021
“I hate it,” Walker admitted. “I want to play, but it is what it is. Some guys went down and I’ve got to fill in and do what I can until they get back.”
If Saturday’s game proved anything, it’s that Walker still has something left in the tank. It wouldn’t be fair to expect him to replicate this type of performance on a nightly basis, but there is a place in the NBA for Walker.
The question now becomes whether or not Walker’s place is with the Knicks.
Does Walker Still Fit With the Knicks?
The Knicks are in a weird spot where they are trying to make a run at the playoffs while still looking towards bigger things in the future. Saturday’s version of Walker clearly gives the Knicks a good chance to win now.
However, it’s unrealistic to expect the 31-year-old with balky knees to be this good night in and night out.
It doesn’t help Walker’s case that there are two young guards forcing their way into the lineup. Prior to their positive COVID tests, Deuce McBride and Immanuel Quickley led the Knicks to a win over the Houston Rockets.
McBride put up 15 points and nine assists with dogged defense. It’s obvious that McBride’s length and quickness give him a significant edge over Walker on the defensive end.
Quickley hasn’t shot the three-ball particularly well, but he drilled a career-high seven threes in the win over Houston. Although Quickley is more of a combo guard than a true point guard, he’s still battling for minutes with Walker in the backcourt.
And it’s obvious that Thibs won’t be pulling Derrick Rose or Alec Burks from the rotation anytime soon.
Even with this standout night in Boston, it’s hard to envision Walker regaining his spot in the rotation when the Knicks are fully healthy.
If he wants to play and the Knicks don’t want to play him, there’s only one option left, right?
When news of Walker’s demotion dropped, the chances of a trade skyrocketed. The Knicks probably won’t be able to get much back for the aging veteran, but whatever they can recoup would be a win.
Whether it’s a young player they can develop or a second-round pick, it feels like anything would be a positive. Considering how well McBride is playing, the Knicks should feel pretty confident adding more second-round draft capital.
It’s unfortunate that Walker won’t have a long tenure with his hometown team, but a split still feels like the right move for everyone, even in spite of the 29-point outburst on Saturday night.