After his aging but still star-laden Boston Celtics dispatched the Cleveland LeBrons in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, Kevin Garnett was asked about the impending free agency of Northeast Ohio's homegrown hero.
"Loyalty is something that hurts you at times, because you can't get your youth back," said Garnett, who'd been fiercely devoted to the Minnesota Timberwolves before being traded to Boston three years prior, and had consequently spent the first 12 seasons of his magnificent career surrounded by middling supporting casts that he carried to very-goodness but never greatness. "I can honestly say that if I could go back and do my situation over, knowing what I know now ... I'd have done it a little sooner."
Two months later, James went on national television and uttered the eight infamous words that set the template for the modern superteam and irreversibly reshaped NBA power dynamics. Being the sole elite player on a team has never really been a recipe for contention, but it's become increasingly untenable since The Decision. (Look no further than James' latest free-agent adventure for evidence.) And just a few months ago, Garnett's come-to-Jesus moment resonated with another superstar who'd spent his first six NBA seasons marooned on an island of mediocrity.
"When you hear that, it makes you think," Pelicans big man Anthony Davis said of Garnett's comments this past March. "I'm not gonna lie, it makes you think. Because you wonder if you're following in that same path."
With that in mind, let's talk about Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets.
First off: Walker is not Garnett, or LeBron, or Davis. He's not a generational talent capable of dragging a team to relevance by himself or altering the entire landscape of the NBA with one swoop of the pen. There's also been no indication that he intends to look elsewhere when he becomes a free agent for the first time in the summer. In fact, when trade rumors about him bubbled up last season, Walker said he'd be "devastated" if the Hornets dealt him, and when he was asked this past summer about one day playing for his hometown New York Knicks, he said, "I doubt it. I'm a Hornet, and I'm planning on being a Hornet for a long time."
But Walker is a shipwrecked superstar who's blossomed into one of the NBA's best, wiliest, and most watchable players; a skittering waterbug of a point guard who's built one of the game's deadliest pull-up jumpers basically from scratch, adding it to his expansive toolbox of feints, hesitations, and herky-jerky dribble moves. He's a virtuosic ball-handler, a purveyor of whip-quick crossovers, a step-back artist, a three-level scorer, and a master of tight-space manipulation. He doesn't turn the ball over. He doesn't miss games. He plays with joy. He plays with fire. His game is full of flavor. Kemba Walker is good as hell, and he's getting better all the time.