Sometimes in life, you just need to admit that you were wrong and not continue attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole. The New York Knicks may be coming to this realization already regarding their big offseason acquisition, hometown favorite Kemba Walker. Today, Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau announced that Walker would be removed from the team’s rotation moving forward. Thibodeau didn’t say for how long, just that “as of right now,” Walker is out and Alec Burks is taking over at guard.
There aren’t too many head coaches in the NBA that possess the gumption to bench their team’s big free-agent signing 20 games into the season. But Thibs is doing what he feels is best for the team at this stage of the season. The Knicks are still two games above .500 (11-9) and in seventh place in the eastern conference, even with a rocky start this year. So, the season is far from a wash, but the team might not be saying the same about Kemba.
The way Thibodeau explained Walker’s demotion, it sounds like he won’t even be considered in a bench player role initially. When Thibs says “out of the rotation,” it’s not just as a starter, apparently. No one can speak for coach Thibodeau, so I won’t attempt to, but either way, the Knicks may see the end nearing for Kemba. Again, Thibs didn’t say this, but it just feels that way from the outside.
Walker last played a full 82 games during the 2018-19 season in Charlotte. He then headed to Boston, where he was plagued by injuries. Now, this may just come down to the Knicks being a few years too late in bringing Walker home to Madison Square Garden. It’s clear to see he’s no longer the player he was. He hadn’t even been that in Boston. His career lows this year, almost across the board in major offensive statistics, tell the story.
We can call it buyers’ remorse, plain ol’ regret, or any other way you’d like to qualify it. The bottom line is that the Knicks just gave Walker $18 million in guaranteed money and this relationship might not even survive through the first half of the season. At first glance, this feels like a prime NBA buyout market opportunity. But is there still a market out there for Walker’s services? Only time will tell if this is the route the two sides choose.
In some ways, this reminds me of Patrick Ewing to Seattle at the end of his Hall of Fame career, only to show up in the Pacific Northwest and be a mere shell of what he was even one year earlier. Now, I’m not comparing Walker in terms of a player to Ewing (but Patrick was clearly done by the time he got to Seattle), just the similarity of the situation. We’ll need to see how Kemba’s situation plays out, but it doesn’t sound like we’ll be seeing him on the court for the Knicks anytime soon.