This was a much more pleasant reason to be rousted up out of a nap than the alternative for Kemba Walker.
For weeks there had been rumors the Charlotte Hornets point guard could be traded before Thursday’s 3 p.m. NBA deadline. That time came and passed, so Walker settled in for his standard pregame nap. Then, his phone went nuts with text messages: Hornets general manager Rich Cho, agent Jeff Schwartz, team owner Michael Jordan. All in line to congratulate him for being named a replacement All-Star.
The NBA announced late Thursday that Walker would make his second career All-Star appearance. This time he replaces New York Knicks forward-center Kristaps Porzingis, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. Walker was added as an Eastern Conference representative in the All-Star Game, to be held Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.
It was a great day all around: Not traded off the team that drafted him in 2011, and an All-Star for the second straight season.
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“You never know if you’ll make it back,” Walker said before a road game against the Portland Trail Blazers. “I’m very fortunate to be back. Two times? Back-to-back? It seems very surreal. I know I’m here because of an injury to another guy, but being that next guy up is a great feeling.”
Walker said one of the perks of being selected for the 2017 game in New Orleans was the chance to interact with the greats of the game. Walker competes against those perennial stars each season, but that’s different from the chance to socialize with them and exchange thoughts.
“Whenever you get to be around guys like LeBron James or Melo (Carmelo Anthony), Kyle Lowery – guys who have been around – there is nothing better. That’s great company, guys who know how to win in this league. Guys who have been to multiple All-Star Games,” Walker said. “The chance to talk to them, to pick their brains. I don’t get a chance to interact with those guys on a daily basis, the way I do with my own (teammates).
“To get a weekend with those guys is very special.”
Walker didn’t get the nod from NBA commissioner Adam Silver when two other Eastern Conference All-Stars, Washington Wizard John Wall and Cleveland Cavalier Andre Drummond, previously had to drop out due to injury. Those two were replaced by Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons and and Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat. Walker said when Love was injured and again following Porzingis’ injury that he would be happy to accept an invitation if it were offered.
Walker is averaging 22.6 points amd 5.8 assists this season, numbers roughly comparable to last season. His candidacy was likely hindered by the Hornets’ losing record, 23-30 entering the game against the Trail Blazers.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Walker viewing an All-Star appearance as a learning experience is representative of how he approaches his profession.
“One of the reasons he’s become the player he has is that attitude,” Clifford said. “He goes there to learn.”
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell