'Plan A' Accomplished: Celtics Welcome Walker, Kanter to Boston
BOSTON – As soon as the NBA Draft concluded on the night of June 20, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge began chalking up plans for potential free agent targets. The team’s main areas of focus were to fill voids at both the point guard and center positions. So, at the top of its board was “Plan A”: acquire both Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter – two of the most talented and highest-character players available at those roles.
Fortunately for Ainge and his staff, the Celtics happened to be at the top of both Walker and Kanter’s lists, as well. A couple of phone calls and a few swoops of the pen later, and the veteran duo was officially on board. Their journey and a new chapter in Celtics history began Wednesday, as they were both introduced together at the Red Auerbach Center in Boston.
For Walker, the decision to join the Celtics was mostly a no-brainer. It was tough for him to leave the Charlotte Hornets, the team with which he had spent his entire eight-year career up until this summer, but the three-time All-Star wanted to have the opportunity to play for a team that had the potential of being a perennial contender. The Celtics had that to offer, plus the incentive of being close to home (New York) and where he went to college (UConn).
“For me, it’s the competitiveness of this organization,” Walker said of what drew him to the C’s. “They’ve been winning for years. You see all the banners upstairs (at the training facility) and in the arena. It’s a winning organization and I want to win. That's what I’m about. Throughout my basketball career, as a pro, I haven’t won consistently, and I just want to get a taste of that, and I thought this would be the best place for me to do that.”
To improve his chances of tasting such success, Walker took it upon himself to help the Celtics complete their free agency plan. After arriving in Boston, he took Ainge’s phone and dialed up his “Plan A” partner to issue a recruiting pitch.
“I answered the phone,” Kanter recalled with a smile. “It was a deep voice and I was like, ‘Who’s this?’ He said, ‘It’s Kemba, man, and we want you to be here and we’re excited about you.’ That made me very excited and feel special. Having an All-Star guy, a superstar like Kemba call me and say, ‘Hey, we want you to be here.’ That’s special.”
Kanter can relate to Walker’s desire to win. Last season, he experienced both ends of the success spectrum having spent the first half on a struggling New York Knicks team and the second half on a Western Conference Finals-bound Portland Trail Blazers squad.
“I understand money or whatever could be important,” explained Kanter, who, like Walker has eight years of NBA experience under his belt. “But for me, at this point of my career, the most [important] thing is definitely winning.”
The key to winning with this group, Walker says, is by having every player buy into a selfless approach and finding ways to feed off one another. He may become the star of this Celtics team, but Walker wants to share the spotlight with his teammates to make sure that they all feel empowered and can benefit from each other’s skill sets.
"I think my skills complement these guys,” said Walker, who averaged 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists last season while earning All-NBA honors. “I love to get in the lane and I’m gonna have a lot of attention. That’ll definitely open up opportunities for other guys but for the most part, I think I make my teammates better in other ways, just being a good teammate, wanting the best for those guys and pushing them as much as possible. It’s going to be fun.”
Kanter will likely be responsible for creating a large portion of that fun. Throughout his career, he has garnered the reputation of being one of the most enjoyable locker room guys in the league, while also being a dominant low-post force and a consistent double-double threat on the court.
“It’s very important for the chemistry,” Kanter explained of his lighthearted, cheerful attitude. “You have to have fun, you have to put a smile on people’s faces, especially in the locker room, especially after a tough game. People will try to learn from their mistakes and at the same time start thinking about the next game. It’s important to be that guy in the locker room and put a smile on people’s faces.”
Character, to Ainge and his staff, matters just as much as talent, which is why the Walker-Kanter combo was their Plan A heading into this offseason.
“We were very fortunate that they chose the Boston Celtics,” Ainge said as he sat between his two new colleagues at a podium in the practice gym. “We’re very excited about what they bring in many facets of the game, but also as people. Who they are is just as important as what they are on the court and what they represent.”