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Hornets ‘blindsided’ by Kemba Walker making All-NBA, wanted to keep him under ‘right conditions’

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The Charlotte Hornets were reportedly somewhat blindsided by their former star point guard Kemba Walker making the All-NBA Third Team, making him supermax-eligible and putting them quite out of their price range. General manager Mitch Kupchak told Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer that while Walker didn’t demand the full extent of his would-be $221 million supermax, the extensive gap between what the Hornets could justify to pay and Walker’s rise as an elite-caliber player was the reason for their parting of ways.

“We had great years with him, and we didn’t get into the playoffs,” said Kupchak. “What makes us think that next year (would) be different?”

“I’ve got to step back and look at where we’ve been and where we’re going. Chart out a course that gives us the best chance to build something that is sustainable for more than a year or two.”

The prospect of keeping Walker looked strong by the All-Star break, with both the guard and the franchise saying the right things to entice a potential deal in the summer. But Kupchak, who was hired in 2018, had other plans in mind — to trade him at the peak of his value and get the right piece in return — something the longtime GM knew was a potential risk.

“Almost every offer revolved around draft picks. It was always lottery-protected.,” said Kupchak. “When you do something like that, you’re saying you’re going to draft a player in the teens, we don’t know how good he’s going to be, and it’s going to take three or four years (to realize value). We wanted to keep Kemba — under the right conditions.”

Kupchak and the Hornets offered Walker (who had been largely underpaid, making only $12 million in each of his last four years) a five-year, $160 million deal — $61 million below the supermax and $30 million under max value — which he swiftly turned down when told the franchise wouldn’t be able to pair him with more talent. Eventually the Hornets executed a sign-and-trade for Terry Rozier after Walker was pretty much committed to joining the Boston Celtics at the wake of the likely Kyrie Irving departure.