On Feb. 16, just before the All-Star break, Kemba Walker played his last game of the 2021-22 season.
He’s been waiting for a chance ever since.
That opportunity will come with the Mavericks soon, perhaps as early as Thursday at Detroit. Or maybe at his hometown of New York when the Mavericks visit Jalen Brunson and the Knicks on Saturday.
But it will happen.
And that has Walker smiling, both physically and mentally.
“I feel good, and I’m not just saying that,” the 6-foot point guard said Wednesday after he went through his first practice as a Mav. “I know I haven’t played in a while. But I feel as good as I have in a very long time. I really took my time and made sure I felt better before I really started ramping myself up. We’ll just have to see for real.”
Walker has fought left knee problems for several years. He’s gone through platelet-enriched plasma injections and other procedures that have helped address problems that haven’t really been an issue until the last few years.
At 32, Walker knows why he is with the Mavericks. They need another ballhandler and he certainly qualifies. He has been a big-time scorer in the NBA, averaging 25.6 points in 2018-19 before becoming a free agent and leaving Charlotte for Boston (more on that in a moment).
And he’s able to create offense for himself and teammates.
But beyond what he may bring on the court, Walker should be a boost to the Mavericks during times like what they just endured when they lost four consecutive games.
And as they start a trip lugging a 1-7 road record with them, Walker’s upbeat personality should help.
“That’s something that definitely goes unnoticed,” Walker said. “I’ve been around guys my whole career who have been that way, who can sense the locker room. When things aren’t going well, guys can get down. When guys are missing shots, they can get down on themselves. I can always sense that in guys because I’ve been through it. And I’ve had vets who have helped me get through it. And that’s something I know I can help with.
“Whenever I see somebody down, I don’t like it. I like the locker room to be upbeat, to be happy. I like guys to be happy and excited and feel good about themselves. That’s just been me.”
Walker found out about the Mavericks’ interest in him on Saturday, when they were playing at Toronto. It wasn’t long before it was a done deal.
“Things started moving extremely fast,” he said. “You go from watching games and watching Luka (Dončić) on TV and the next thing you know, I’m in Dallas. It’s crazy the way it works.
“When I found out, I think they were playing Toronto, so I was just seeing where I could fit in, where I could help. You watch the game differently, for sure.”
So, where exactly will Walker fit in?
“Just adding another guy who can create for others and myself,” he said. “I think I can help in that aspect. Take a little pressure off. Luka doesn’t really need any pressure taken off him. The kid is special. But maybe helping with Spence (Dinwiddie), who has been killing it this year and some of the young guys. Just be that extra ballhandler.”
The Mavericks were interested in Walker, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2011 draft, when he was a free agent in 2019. He left Charlotte and went to Boston.
Walker said it was news to him that the Mavericks had interest.
“I heard that yesterday,” he said. “I didn’t know. Yeah, I didn’t know. But you know, I’m here now. I know it’s a different situation, a different time, but hopefully it’ll work out.”
Walker is on a non-guaranteed contract and the Mavericks are using their 15th spot on the roster as a place to experiment with players that they believe could be a permanent fit on the roster.
He said he doesn’t know yet when he’ll get on the court (“Hopefully sooner rather than later,” he said). But Walker was with the Mavericks for Tuesday’s win over Golden State and said he’s looking forward to adding to that experience.
The workouts he’s put himself through over the last nine months have put him in good position for this opportunity, he said.
“I just felt like someobody was going to call at some point,” Walker said. “And I do think I’m in pretty good shape, actually. I don’t think I’m too far off, but you can’t really simulate an NBA game. That’s one of the hardest things to do. There’s really no telling until I jump into that thing, which I’m really excited about.
“By the grace of God, I’m here. I’ve been working extremely hard just to prepare myself for this day. I’m excited to be here. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
The Mavericks are hoping it’s a perfect fit.
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