CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Kemba Walker is preparing for his third NBA All-Star game — and his first as a starter — this weekend on his home court in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he once shouted "This is my city!" after a game-winning shot.
The big question is how many more he'll play in as a member of the Hornets.
The eight-year NBA veteran is set to become one of several All-Star free agents in July and will surely be an attractive option for more than a few teams.
On the surface, it seems like Walker re-signing a long-term deal is a no-brainer — he has repeatedly stated his desire to continue playing for the Hornets, and the organization wants him back.
But there are other factors at play.
For the highly competitive Walker, he hasn't had much of a supporting cast and he's only been to the playoffs twice in his previous seven seasons, losing both times to the Miami Heat in the first round. So the chance of going to an established winning team before too much of his career slips away could be luring.
The Hornets and owner Michael Jordan have something to think about, too.
They have to decide whether to give the largest contract in franchise history — he can make $220 million over five years if he makes All-NBA; or $189 million over five years if he doesn't — to a 6-foot-1 point guard if it means limiting other free agents the franchise can sign to make it a championship contender.
"I sense Kemba is the kind of guy who just wants to trust in an organization — that we're always trying to do the right thing," said Mitch Kupchak, in his first season as the Hornets general manager. "I do know he likes Charlotte. I know he's a loyal person. So I think those things bode well for us. But we're a long way off."
The Hornets did not attempt to trade Walker last week, a sign they are confident he will re-sign.
But ultimately, Kupchak said, the decision on whether Walker returns "is a question for Kemba, because really what he thinks is much more important than what I think."
Before the season, Walker said he didn't want to play anywhere other than Charlotte, downplaying the notion he'd go looking for a so-called "super team."
"I don't want to do that," Walker said in September. "I want to create something special here in Charlotte, something that we have never had here before. I want to create some consistency. And I want to be a part of that."
Walker hasn't changed his stance in the five months since, even as the Hornets continue to muddle around a .500 mark, just above the playoff cutline.