Trans. Oct 29 7:56 ET (Oct 29 7:56 ET ) Kemba Walker made a 21-footer from the top of the key with five seconds left in overtime to lift Charlotte to a 108-106 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, providing a fitting ending for fans celebrating the return of the Hornets name after a 12-year absence. Walker finished with 26 points, including a tying 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left in regulation as the Hornets erased a 24-point third-quarter deficit. Marvin Williams had 19 points, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 17 and Al Jefferson finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for Charlotte. Lance Stephenson had seven points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in his Hornets debut.
This is where we’re at now, I suppose. Kemba Walker is a $12 million a year player. The guy may never make an All-Star team, and yet he just signed a contract extension with the Charlotte Hornets that, starting next season, will pay him $48 million spread out over four years until 2019. Of course, this is a duplicitous hot sportswriter take. Kemba Walker is not a $12 million a year player this year, even technically – he’s set to make over $3.2 million on the final year of his rookie deal. If the deal’s terms rise as the years move along, a likely scenario, he won’t be a $12 million a year player in 2015-16. And by the time the NBA’s new television contract sets in following the 2016 offseason, even if the league and its players decide to stagger the influx of revenue so as not to sharply raise the salary cap, Kemba Walker will likely be more than worth the money paid to him over the last three seasons of his deal. This deal will take the point guard all the way past his 29th birthday, so owner Michael Jordan and general manager Rich Cho are paying Walker through his prime. Walker was the lead guard on a playoff team last season, averaging 17.7 points and over six assists, and Jordan felt it necessary to keep what has perhaps been the best draft pick of his executive career. From a talk with Rick Bonnell at the Charlotte Observer, a few hours before Walker put pen to paper : “I’d much rather get Kemba done before the season starts,” Jordan said. “Ultimately that’s what I intend to accomplish. We’re in real conversations. I’m hopeful. Really hopeful. “They are core pieces of what we’re trying to do. I’d like to keep both of those guys. I say I’d like to, and I’d spend the money that’s appropriate. I’ll make every attempt to keep them.” The Hornets are considered playoff, if not championship, contenders. The Steve Clifford-coached outfit won 43 games last season with Walker mostly running the show, only the second time the former Bobcats topped the .500 mark in the ten seasons since pro basketball returned to the Queen City. Walker did regress in his third season, watching his shooting marks dip to below 40 percent from the field, but he clearly has shown enough to warm the Charlotte brass moving forward. There still isn’t a game-changing, ultra-star in Hornet teal yet. Low post genius Al Jefferson is All-Star caliber and probably should have made the All-Star team last season, but Charlotte lost all hope in the first round of the playoffs when Jefferson aggravated a painful soft tissue injury in his foot during Game 1 of its series with Miami. Kemba took the reins and led Charlotte in scoring with 19.5 a game in the Heat sweep, upping his shooting percentages to 47 percent and doing well to make the batch of first-year postseason performers at least appear competitive against the defending champs. The issue from here on out is growth. Walker has shot below 40 percent from the field in two of his three seasons, and he chucks an ungodly amount of threes for someone with a career three-point percentage (32 percent) that should dissuade him of as much. This isn’t to say he should give up on his outside pursuits, not in this era, but he has to improve. Exhibition stats aren’t always telling, but Walker did shoot only 32 percent from long range this month. Charlotte has some impressive flexibility moving forward. Even his biggest detractors can still sign off on the idea that Lance Stephenson’s three-year, $27.5 million deal is an absolute bargain. Jefferson may opt out of his contract this summer (a player option for $13.5 million next season) in order to take in a longer deal that would guarantee money into his mid-30s, a contract that could see him giving up less money upfront. Beyond that, only Walker, Stephenson, Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh are on the books beyond the 2016 offseason – because if Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continues his struggles, the Hornets may not offer him the qualifying offer of over $8.2 million for 2016-17. At first blush, Kemba Walker doesn’t seem like a four-year, $48 million player. We’ll have climb off of our hoverboards and check in again during 2018-19, though, when this deal might feel as if it’s actually close to an average NBA salary. - - - - - - - Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops
Lance Stephenson could be the missing piece to the championship puzzle Michael Jordan is trying to build in Charlotte. At least the Hornets owner believes Stephenson gives his team a fighting chance. Jordan believes the Eastern Conference title goes through LeBron James - now in Cleveland - and he was impressed with how Stephenson battled James in Miami last year when Stephenson was with Indiana. The Hornets initially went after restricted free agent Gordon Hayward, but the Utah Jazz matched their $64 million offer sheet.
The Scoop:He had been dealing with a couple of injuries throughout preseason so it's good to see that he is ready just in time for the opener. It may take Stephenson some time to gel with his new teammates, but he does have an excellent chance to be a star on this young Hornet's team.