After failing to register a single second of playing time in New York’s previous nine games, Kemba Walker returned to game action for the Knicks on Saturday night against the Boston Celtics, and he put up some solid stats in his return — 29 points, six rebounds and three assists in 37 minutes of action.
Afterward, he made it clear that he isn’t happy with Tom Thibodeau’s decision to remove him from the rotation, and that he doesn’t feel like his proverbial tank is close to being empty. “I hate it,” Walker said of being out of the lineup. “I want to play… I do feel like I have a lot to give still.”
Walker’s removal from New York’s rotation is the latest blow in what has been a couple of difficult years for the former All-Star. Walker dealt with injury issues during his two seasons with the Celtics in Boston, and obviously, his time in New York hasn’t gone as he would have hoped. Nonetheless, Walker is doing his best to remain optimistic — and prepared.
“It’s definitely been a rough couple years, to be honest,” Walker said. “But, you know, when you get a chance to kind of slow down and think about things, myself, you know, I think it’s just some adversity. At some point in life, everyone goes through tough times. I’ve had a great career thus far, and a lot of things went my way. It’s a tough time right now, so it’s really about just showing my character, showing who I really am.
“I’m so mentally tough, I feel like I’m built for any situation, and I’m going to handle it the best I can,” Walker added. “I’ve got a great support system, great family, great friends who help me stay humble and stay grounded, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. Just try to be unbreakable and continue to put my work in and just stay ready for anything that comes my way.”
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Despite his solid showing against the Celtics, Walker’s future with the Knicks remains uncertain. He played against Boston because the Knicks needed bodies. But, that doesn’t mean such minutes will be there when the team is fully healthy, as Thibodeau has made it clear that he isn’t in favor of playing multiple smaller guards, and Derrick Rose, Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley all appear to be higher than Walker on the depth chart.
Given this backdrop, the Knicks will likely look to trade the veteran guard leading up to February’s deadline. In the meantime, Walker doesn’t plan to be a distraction. If you’ve seen him energetically cheering on his teammates from the sidelines while he has been out of the rotation, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“I know I should be playing. But whatever situation I’m in, I’m gonna stay locked in, stay prepared,” he said. “Whatever the team needs from me, I’ll be there for them… I’m here for my team, I’m here for my teammates. I can’t say it enough. Whatever’s asked of me that’s what I’m here for.”
Walker might not be an ideal fit in New York, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still be an impactful player elsewhere. Given his ability to generate offense and space the floor it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see a contender trade for him to add some offensive firepower for a playoff push.