This could be the end of Kemba Walker in Charlotte. It could also still be the beginning.
That said, the 2014 draft class looms over the NBA's middle-to-lower tier franchises. Despite improvements at key positions, the Bobcats-Hornets still range in the NBA's lower tier and will look to the draft to improve.
Walker must play better than 2014's potential and prove to the Bobcats-Hornets that he can be good right now. There's no looking to the future after this season; he will be a known commodity. While General Manager Rich Cho may like Walker, he may like the possibility to improve the position more.
What could Charlotte get in return for Walker in a trade? Depending on how well he performs at the beginning of this season, as much as an off-the-bench scorer or a low, likely second-round pick. While the Bobcats-Hornets may not regard Walker's value so low, the market for a scoring point guard dips as the position keeps flooding. For example, the takers for Monta Ellis were few. Teams offered less money for Ellis than expected and may have set a precedent for shoot-first point guards in the next few offseasons.
Ellis, as a prolific scorer/hybrid guard, provides one of the many ceilings for Walker. Though not a best-case scenario, Charlotte could do worse than having someone on the roster who can create points when others cannot. Fans have seen flashes of this in Walker - he has a decent jumper, a good crossover, scores well near the basket and has been a go-to player in the clutch, i.e., expiring shot clocks or end-of-quarter/game situations.
Personally, I love watching Walker play. He brings a balanced set of skills and I believe the pressure will bode well for him. The Bobcats offseason improvements - Al Jefferson over the triage of horrid big men and Cody Zeller over BJ Mullens - emphasizes the kind of spacing the team needs to prioritize Walker's skills. Having a legitimate threat to score underneath should give the guards the proper spacing and pick-and-roll options to expand the limited offense Charlotte worked with last year.
Case in point, check Walker's shot chart (via Grantland). I'm willing to bet that his percentages at the basket back to around 12 feet will improve - and not from added experience so much as from having enough to space to use his creativity. Sure, he must improve as a three-point shooter. Yes, he must be able to hit shots on the run a little more - that free throw line FG percentage looks drab. But won't the additions and subtractions of the offseason contribute a great deal of open rather than contested shots?
The real question surrounding Walker's third year weighs heavily on the Bobcats-Hornets reality - how good do they really want to be? If Walker improves and adds value to his stock in the league, he would also add wins to a team in need of more young talent. Few will pick them to win more than 35 games this season. Few will even pick them for 30, maybe. That said, the more they distance themselves from the bottom of the league the more the team loses a chance at a truly elite player in the 2014 draft.
Where, then, does Walker fit? Is he a franchise player or just a nice piece of a bad team? Does he outrank a player to be named later? Charlotte's front office bought a win-now player to go along with him, a rookie that has been bemoaned but fits the win-now attitude more than injured rookie Nerlens Noel. If they believe in improving, Charlotte will hold on to Walker, hope the next draft goes as deep as most believe it will and finally believe in right now.
The Bobcats-Hornets started from the bottom, now the whole team's just above the bottom. Potential exudes strength over actuality in sports, and Kemba Walker must prove that he presents the best option for the Bobcats to move forward while their stagnancy will likely remain.