There were other point guard options the Knicks would have preferred. Chris Paul naturally. Kyle Lowry — without a doubt.
Dennis Schroder? Not a bad choice, but he was asking too much at the outset and there was baggage.
Spencer Dinwiddie, according to a source, didn’t find the Knicks an appealing fit. The Knicks knew young point guard Cameron Payne, Paul’s backup, wasn’t budging from Phoenix. The Cavaliers wanted too many assets for Collin Sexton, who is soon up for a contract extension.
Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft? The Knicks were intrigued in March but after stronger consideration, they backed off, wanting a ready-made veteran point guard. The Knicks let him go to the Bulls without a fuss, according to a source.
Indeed, the Knicks’ choice of Kemba Walker was as unexpected as it was delightful to their giddy fan base.
It’s very Knicks-like, signing a player moving beyond his golden years rather than an emerging player entering his golden years. Nevertheless, Knicks fans, riding high after their first playoff season since 2012-13, seem to adore this move, judging by social media.
Walker is back home at age 31 to run the point as he did at Rice High School in Harlem and with the famed AAU juggernaut New York Gauchos in The Bronx.
Tuesday, Walker will be introduced in Manhattan as the newest Knickerbocker at a news conference on the Garden court. His mother and sister will be on hand, according to a source close to the Bronx native.
Maybe this signing won’t pan out because of Walker’s arthritic left knee, but the fans can’t wait to see him try. The pain in his knee reduced Walker to 43 games last season for the Celtics, but the orange-and-blue faithful want to see how this storybook signing unfolds.
“At end of the day, they got a New Yorker who always wanted to be home,’’ one NBA executive said. “He’s happy and the Knicks are happy.’’
Nobody envisioned Walker would be bought out this early by rebuilding Oklahoma City, which obtained him from Boston in a June trade. The idea was to then flip Walker in another trade.
With two years and $74 million left on his contract, OKC couldn’t work out a trade. The Lakers and Clippers reportedly had interest.
There was nothing that made sense to the Knicks in a Walker trade. The bright alternative was president Leon Rose leaving enough cap space to give Walker and the Thunder motivation for a buyout. Walker was able to leave a significant amount of money on the table in OKC and recoup some of it with the Knicks. Win, win, win.
The Thunder had already acquired the 16th pick in the 2021 draft from Boston to accept Walker’s contract, then traded that for two future first-rounders to Houston.
“We’re excited to have him,” said OKC GM Sam Presti said at the time. “It’s hard to find guys that score and create shots in the NBA.”
Walker will be doing that for the Knicks after forfeiting $20.5 million in the buyout agreement and then signing a two-year, $18 million deal to join the Knicks
“Low risk, high reward,’’ one NBA talent evaluator said.
Save for an NBA-sponsored Coach of the Year Zoom call, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t talked since the season ended in a first-round wipeout against Atlanta.
Thibodeau’s plan for a Walker/Derrick Rose point guard tandem will be of much intrigue since Rose, too, is injury prone after multiple knee surgeries.
Thibodeau is expected to talk Tuesday and provide clues as to whether he might split the 48-minute game between the two former All-Stars. It’s unclear if Leon Rose will break his one-year media silence.
Load management — an idea Thibodeau detests — may finally reign at the Garden in 2021-22. Walker didn’t play back-to-backs last season for Boston and was forced to miss the final two playoff games against the Nets because of knee pain.
That’s why rookie Miles McBride could loom large as does second-year man Immanuel Quickley, who is experimenting in the Las Vegas Summer League at the point.
“He’ll play three-quarters of the season, but it’s still a nice move,’’ one league scout said of Walker.