It’s been a unique year for Kemba Walker. The All-Star point guard made the monumental decision in the summer of 2019 to leave the Charlotte Hornets for the Celtics after eight years with his only NBA team in hopes of gaining a better chance of contending.
From playing for USA Basketball during the FIBA championship in China to adjusting to a whole new organization, the 30-year-old still managed to produce All-Star numbers before knee soreness limited his production for much of 2020. Walker has looked like his old self, however, in the Orlando bubble despite being on a minutes limit during an underwhelming start for the C’s. He’s shooting 58 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point range over his first three games as the rest of his Celtics teammates try to regain their rhythm and chemistry from before the hiatus.
BostonSportsJournal.com caught up with Walker over the weekend in a 1-on-1 phone interview as Walker unveiled a new partnership with BODYARMOR — he’s among seven new athletes with equity joining the brand. We discussed the breakout of Jayson Tatum, new wrinkles the Celtics have been working on in Orlando, his knee issues during quarantine, his relationship with Brad Stevens and much more.
You’ve been able to see more of your teammates right now than all of us reporters after about three weeks of practices in Orlando. Who has stood out to you so far?
Walker: I think everyone on my team did a great job of keeping themselves ready, staying in shape. I thought guys really locked into that over quarantine. I don't know if any one guy really stands out. I think Jaylen has really looked impressive as well as guys like Carsen Edwards, Semi Ojeleye, Brad Wanamaker, those guys came back looking really impressive.
Jayson Tatum clearly went to a different level in the final month of the season before the hiatus while you were struggling with your knee issue. Based on that, we really haven’t seen you two together yet at your bests. What do you think you guys are capable of this year and beyond?
Walker: I think we are looking forward to seeing what we can do, actually. I love playing with Jayson. He's a super talent, he's a competitor and we're going to go as far as myself and him, as long as a few other guys take us. We're looking forward to that challenge, we're looking forward to competing against the best teams in this league. It's going to be fun.
It’s been about a year since you’ve been a member of the Celtics organization now. What’s your comfort level now compared to then?
Walker: Actually, it's been crazy. It's just been kind of ... I don't even know what to call it ... it's just been a different time for me. Obviously, I've been in Charlotte the whole time. Leaving Charlotte and coming to Boston along with USA Basketball, there was just a lot of going on throughout this whole year. Not until the whole quarantine where things kind of slowed down for me was when I realized what I've been through which has really been a lot. The adjustment, having to get comfortable with guys, learning a whole new system, learning tons of new names, plays, everything, the city. I'm learning how to get here, there, there's just so much going on. I thought I was comfortable back then but I don't think I was as comfortable as I thought I was, like I am now. This whole quarantine has really given me an opportunity for my life to slow down a little bit and realize what I've been through. Now, I'm definitely comfortable at being around here and it's even more fun now being around these guys, with my teammates and coaching staff. I'm definitely enjoying my time here.
I know it was a bit surprising for everyone to see your knee become an issue after such a long time off. How much of a challenge was it to keep it healthy without having access to all the usual training staff and equipment?
Walker: That definitely slowed it down a little bit but I definitely did all I could do to help try to get myself back healthy. Not being able to be around people and have my trainers was definitely a factor and it was definitely tough.
Is it nice that the team is trying to be protective with you and save you for the long haul, not just this season but for your entire contract?
Walker: For sure. That definitely means a lot to me. You always want to have people on your side and always want to have people feel like they care about you. That definitely means a lot to me.
How has your relationship evolved with Brad Stevens this year?
Walker: Our relationship is growing each and every day. He's really fun to be around and he's definitely easy to talk to so I'm able to go to him with whatever I want to say to him. It's still growing, still getting better and we're still learning each other. We've only known each other for a few months so it will grow from there. It will get where it's supposed to be for sure. We definitely have a great relationship already so I'm just looking forward to building it up even more.
Does Brad have any special wrinkles for you guys that he has added to the gameplan so far for the postseason during the restart or same stuff as before?
Walker: I think it's pretty much the same. A few little wrinkles here and there, a few different things for sure just because I know during quarantine that all Brad did was watch film and try to get better. He saw a few things that he wanted to change and he changed a few things but for the most part, things are pretty much the same.
Is having so much extra practice time before the postseason hit going to be an advantage for teams?
Walker: I think so. Not having to travel and things like that, being able to go right to your room right after the game, that's going to help It's definitely going to give guys a chance to recover a little better, which will be a big help.
What have you been up to in the bubble so far? You hanging out a lot with guys or chilling in your room?
Walker: A little bit of both. Probably spend some time with everyone for the most part. I hang out with Javonte and JT, we have been hanging a lot. There's a lot to do here and a lot of us are definitely spending a lot of time with each other.
What made you decide to join Body Armor brand?
Walker: I’m super excited to join the brand and to be a part of such an impressive group of athletes. It's just a better sports drink. A lot of athletes, including myself, we pay close attention to our bodies. That's why Body Armor kind of resonates with me. Also making a lot of noise in the sports world. For more on Body Armor's new athlete partners, you can check out this video.