On Friday, the two sides announced a trade that basically sent Kemba Walker and his oversized salary to Oklahoma City for Al Horford and his slightly less oversized contract. There was more, of course; here is who gets what in the trade.
Celtics de Boston : Al Horford, Moses Brown, 2023 second-round pick
Oklahoma City: Kemba Walker, 16th pick in 2021 NBA Draft, 2025 second-round pick
Who are the winners and losers of the Walker / Horford trade? Let’s break it down.
Winner: Thunder GM Sam Presti
Presti is the master of getting first-round picks at both ends of a trade, and he’s done it again (as he did with Chris Paul more recently). In case you forgot, Presti and OKC secured Philadelphia’s 2025 first-round pick (the top six proteges) as well as Theo Maledon to accept Horford’s contract in a trade that sent the Sixers Danny Green.
Now the Thunder are reclaiming their third first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to send Horford, and they bring in Kemba Walker – a guy the Thunder will try to rehabilitate just like CP3, and then fire Walker again (likely in one year, it’s going to be difficult to move in the short term). This is how you do a correct rebuild.
Winner: Boston Celtics… maybe
In his first move as the Big Kahuna for Boston, Brad Stevens moved the anchor from a contract from Walker, saving $ 9 million this season (yes, the one that just ended for Boston), but more importantly Still, Horford saves them $ 11.2 next season and only $ 14.5 million of his $ 26.5 million is guaranteed in 2022-23. Stevens freed up the money by getting rid of a Walker player whose knee problems had convinced Boston he wouldn’t be there for them in a deep playoff run.
The “maybe” comes with the question: what will Stevens and the Celtics do with this money? Waste the opportunity and it could quickly tip Boston into the losers category. The most likely outcome is to re-sign Evan Fournier and then use the mid-level exception to bring in another player for next season.
Whether via trade or the mid-level, the Celtics might want to look into some type of general point guard on the ground. Right now, the one-to-one rotation would be Marcus Smart starting with Payton Pritchard behind him. Not terrible, but a player who could help Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with a bit of shooting creation and offense organization would be welcome.
Loser: Danny Ainge
He’s been out in Boston before, but Ainge is the guy who let Horford get to Philadelphia and then used that freed up space to get Walker back in 2019. Brad Stevens’ first move into Ainge’s chair was basically to reverse this movement. Ouch.
It doesn’t matter that Ainge cares as he sits down and studies where he’ll work next (as a consultant or front office leader), maybe Portland or Utah.
Winner: Al Horford
Horford has watched the second half of this season from home because Oklahoma City
was in the middle of a huge tank work wanted to play their young players, and now he’s jumping into a team that should be in the mix in the top of the east. Horford can help the Celtics in a limited role, and now he’s in a much better space.
Limited role as a center, should we add. People suggesting the Celtics play Horford four-way forget when Philadelphia tried to do just that, with Horford next to Joel Embiid. To call it a dumpster fire is an insult to dumpster fires. Horford must play save five.
That’s why the Celtics’ next head coach might have a headache – Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams III, Horford, Brown (who performed well at the end of the season for Oklahoma City), Luke Kornet and Tacko Fall, all play in the center. Jabari Parker really is a five too, but you can at least tell he should be playing a four. That’s a lot of great men to fit into the rotation. (Stevens can make another move here, but crosses aren’t making much of a deal in today’s NBA.)
Loser, but with a chance of rehabilitation: Kemba Walker
When Boston got Walker in a signing-and-swap deal in 2019, it wasn’t so much a bad contract as a bet – if Walker could stay healthy and in All-Star shape, he was perfectly suited for go with Tatum and Brown and lead the Celtics deep into the playoffs. Boston (and Ainge) bet big on Walker.
This bet did not pay off.
Walker falls into the losers category because his stock dropped enough that the Celtics had to make a decent pick in the first round for someone to take his okay. It is not a good sign.
But Chris Paul’s shares had plummeted when he found himself in Oklahoma City; he re-educated himself and his game, and look at him now. Horford also went to rehab at OKC.
The Thunder will be looking to trade Walker again, although that’s likely the next offseason before it’s done. A good season with the Thunder alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would change the dynamic.