The Boston Celtics surprised a lot of people when they signed Kemba Walker to a massive contract last offseason. The goal for Danny Ainge was to build a championship core around Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and the GM was apparently willing to abandon that plan after just one year.
Zach Harper of The Athletic said on “The Ringer NBA Show” podcast this week that Ainge tried to trade Walker for a top-10 pick before the draft last month. His intention was to use the pick to acquire Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans.
Ainge reportedly tried to trade Walker to the Chicago Bulls for the fourth-overall pick and Cleveland Cavaliers for the fifth-overall pick. When the Milwaukee Bucks offered multiple first-round picks for Holiday, the Celtics were no longer interested.
What is perhaps more interesting is that Harper believes the upcoming season is a “make-or-break year” for Ainge in terms of how players around the NBA view him. The pattern the Celtics are following with Walker, who played through a knee injury last season, is similar to what happened with Isaiah Thomas, who returned too soon from a hip injury before Boston traded him.
“That kind of soured a lot of players on the Celtics,” Harper said. “I think Anthony Davis just wanted to be a Laker and there’s a whole Rich Paul connection, but I also think that was a factor … I don’t think it was a major factor but it was a significant factor on some level of, ‘Maybe I don’t want to be a Celtic.’
“I think if Danny Ainge doesn’t handle this Kemba injury properly in terms of getting him back on the court, if they rush him back and something bad happens to Kemba, I think players are really going to look at this Celtics franchise sideways.”
Walker received a stem cell injection in his knee this offseason and is going to be out until at least January. The news of the Celtics trying to trade him comes on the heels of another star player deciding he wanted out of Boston.
The Celtics have never been considered a top destination for star players in Ainge’s tenure with the team, which is why he has had to get creative with acquiring players like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. If players become skeptical of how the team handles injuries, that could make life even more difficult on Ainge.