There was once a time when Kemba Walker took the National Basketball Association by storm. He was drafted ninth overall in 2011 after being named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in leading the Huskies to the championship. He then headlined the Bobcats/Hornets at the Spectrum Center (née Time Warner Cable Arena) prior to being a starter for the Celtics the last two years. For all his supposed limitations as a six-foot guard in a tall man’s game, he managed to snag four straight All-Star selections — as clear a reflection as any of his value in the league.

Unfortunately, the injury bug limited Walker’s appearances in green and white, and his inability to take to the court with consistency prompted former Celtics head coach and new president of hoops operations Brad Stevens to deal him to the Thunder. He then secured a buyout to sign with his hometown Knicks, hoping to jumpstart his career and reclaim his place as a member of the NBA elite. And for a while there, it seemed as if he was well on his way to meeting his objective. Until, that is, he hit a wall. Not only did he not sustain his hot start; he suffered from a lingering swoon that had bench tactician Tom Thibodeau limiting his minutes and sitting him in the crunch.

Now, Walker has been told that he will not have any spot at all in the rotation. It’s a huge blow for the 31-year-old Bronx native invariably described as an outstanding teammate. No doubt, his consummate professionalism and dedication to his craft will keep his head above water and prepped for the time when his number will be called anew. He understands that his demotion wasn’t just a product of whim or fancy. Advanced statistics had him pegged as the Knicks’ sieve on defense; his on and off numbers were simply so disparate that even Thibodeau, long noted for favoring veterans, could not ignore the truth.

It’s a hard fall for Walker, but one that he sees as yet another challenge to meet. League annals are replete with examples of former marquee names compelled to ride the pine in the face of diminishing returns. Not coincidentally, he need only look across town to find an erstwhile star likewise relegated to the bench; while he may not have had the highs experienced by the Nets’ Blake Griffin, he shares in the lows and finds strength therefrom. It won’t break him in any case, but knowing that he’s not alone, and that readiness reaps rewards, should keep him focused. In the final analysis, he’s only as bad as he thinks, and as good as he believes.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.