As a full time Hornets fan and part time writer, I have a serious question for my fellow Buzz City residents. When will Kemba do enough to earn the respect he deserves within this fan base? The guy is loyal to a fault, plays with heart and intensity every night and literally never throws his teammates under the bus.
Kemba put together two of the best seasons in Hornets history the last two years, and his improvement shows no signs of slowing. He is the captain of the team, an all-star and the face of the franchise. Yet, it seems like fans are ready to toss him aside far too quickly.
When he was young, Kemba was blasted for playing “hero-ball” and pounding the air out of the ball. Seems that many forget the surrounding cast Kemba was teamed up with at the time. People wanted him to be more efficient and develop an outside shot. So he did, but even in a season where he took a huge step forward offensively, fans were clamoring for Jeremy Lin to take some of his minutes, and more than a few wanted Lin starting, sliding Kemba to 6th man.
Kemba finished the 2015-’16 campaign with career bests in shooting percentages (43% FG, 37% 3FG), points and rebounds per game. He led the Hornets to 48 wins and nearly got them a first-round playoff series win with a 38 point performance in game-six against Miami — a game that had anyone else played better, the Hornets would have won.
After the season ended we found out that Kemba had done all of this with a knee injury that required surgery. The injury was never made public throughout the course of the season and he never used it as an excuse. Kemba did what he has always done in a Hornets uniform — laced it up and left everything he has on the court.
During the 2016-’17 season, Kemba continued to improve. With Lin gone, the fans were back to 100% Team Kemba. He treated us to the best season a point guard has had in Charlotte. His shooting continued to improve and his efficiency was off the charts. He was rewarded with his first all-star bid and finished the season with huge numbers, including 23 PPG and 40% shooting from behind the arc. The season was a disappointment from a team aspect – a thin bench and numerous injuries to key guys were largely to blame. Yet, you never heard a negative word from Walker — he gave the team everything he had and could be heard motivating young guys like MKG and Frank Kaminsky almost nightly.
The off-season began and the Hornets added Dwight Howard via trade and drafted Malik Monk and Dwyane Bacon. Rich Cho signed Michael Carter-Williams in part from Kemba saying how he though he would be a good fit with the team. Buzz City was buzzing again and the fan base was feeling optimistic for the season.
Last Friday, word got out that Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland and about half the fan base couldn’t get the Trade Machine out fast enough to figure out how we could ship out Kemba and bring in Kyrie. This blew me away. I’m not going to say Kemba is better than Kyrie, but the gap between them isn’t anywhere near what I have seen and heard. We just now finally got the pieces around Kemba to give him his best shot to shine, and many were saying to give up whatever it takes to get Irving. Kemba has a chance to be the rare player who plays his entire career in Charlotte — does anyone honestly see Kyrie Irving, who is leaving a team that has gone to the finals three straight years, resigning long term in a small market?
I will leave you with this: Enjoy Kemba — enjoy the drives that look impossible, the clutch jumpers that he makes look easy. Enjoy the no look passes and the shoulder shakes and smiles. Just Enjoy watching a man who truly enjoys playing the game of basketball in Buzz City, because he is one of a kind.