That has left many, many other players waiting their turn. This includes Enes Kanter, Tobias Harris and, most notably, Klay Thompson. Part of the problem is no one quite knows what the market will be for these players. None outside of Irving really have proven themselves worthy of the security of an extension and the right to avoid the uncertainty of restricted free agency.
Teams, in other words, are curious to see what the market has in store for these players. Many times, they want to see what similar players will fetch (Kenneth Faried’s deal undoubtedly influenced the deal Nikola Vucevic got from the Magic).
Walker has had a nice career to this point. He averaged 17.7 points per game the last two years and was a nice complement to Al Jefferson as Charlotte reached the Playoffs for the first time in four years and the second time in franchise history (at least since the Bobcats came into existence, still not sure how the history sharing arrangement with New Orleans is working).
Essentially, Walker got the same deal as Kyle Lowry got this summer. Lowry had a near-All Star season last year averaging 17.9 points per game and a little more than seven assists per game. Stack them up side to side and it is a little hard to argue that Walker did not get the deal he deserved:
Certainly Lowry had a better season last year. But also remember that Lowry is 28 years old and in his ninth year in the league. Walker is just starting off and ending his rookie contract. There is the assumption Walker can continue to grow into a player like Lowry.
There is also then the consideration that the salary cap is expected to jump pretty dramatically in the coming years. Walker might end up being more of a bargain then if he continues to improve.
League-wide though, this deal begins to set the market for wing players looking for extensions or hitting restricted free agency.
For instance, Harris’ scoring numbers are just a shade below the Walker and Lowry numbers. Does Harris believe he could fetch a similar $11 or $12 million per year on the market with that increased salary cap on the horizon. Does this kind of deal pave the way for Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard to further cement themselves as deserving of a max contract? Where does that slot Ricky Rubio or Brandon Knight? Could Reggie Jackson see a big bump up in salary if teams feel other players have become too expensive?
These are all questions Walker’s contract brings up.
Of course, if Walker stars like he did in the season opener against Milwaukee, it may all become a moot point. Walker might be underpaid at that point.
The market is getting set though for a wild free agency at the end of the season.