ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Thursday that the Celtics have emerged as the favorite to land Kemba Walker when free agency opens. If it happens, it would keep Boston in the upper crust of the Eastern Conference from a pure talent standpoint, and virtually offset the presumed loss of Kyrie Irving from a production standpoint. 

No, Walker is not as good as Irving. But that's a much closer discussion than people might think. 

Walker is sensational in just about every way Irving is on the court. He's a lethal pick-and-roll player who has developed into one of the most dangerous off-the-dribble 3-point shooters in the league. He is lightning quick with nasty handles and can break down the best of defenders. He's actually better than Irving as an off-ball player working off screens and dribble-handoffs, and thus wouldn't theoretically need to initiate every action to maintain his impact. 

Just what is Walker's impact? It's elite. Kemba was 10th in the league in scoring at 25.6 points per game, almost two points a night better than Irving. If you're a casual fan and don't watch Walker much, don't think for a second that any of Charlotte's shortcomings have anything to do with him. It's the opposite, in fact. The Hornets have been a far more competitive team than their paltry record indicates over the last two seasons. They battle everyone and play in a ton of close games; they just fare miserably in them. 

Last year the Hornets were 8-15 in games decided by five points or fewer, and they ranked 20th in clutch winning percentage -- which is to say in the 38 games in which they played that were within five points at any point in the final five minutes. Again, don't be lazy and conclude that Walker isn't clutch or isn't a closer or some such nonsense. 

Walker was second in the league with 175 total clutch points and second in the league in total fourth-quarter points. His shooting percentages dip in these situations because, in Charlotte, there is nobody else to worry about. Walker sees waves of defenders in clutch time, and really all the time, and has to take a lot of incredibly difficult shots as the gap between him and Charlotte's second-best option was always significant. Put Walker next to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward, with Marcus Smart next to him defensively to make up for his size disadvantage there, and he might have even more production in his tank. 

Perhaps most importantly, Walker is an incredible teammate. He's not going to hang a cloud over Boston's locker room, and ultimately the entire season, the way Irving did. Basketball would be fun again in Boston with Walker on board. Walker is a highlight reel waiting to happen, a truly electric player in the vein of a Damian Lillard or even Steph Curry when he gets cooking. 

That's not an exaggeration. Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra told me Walker is one of the players in the league he would pay to watch play. If Walker goes to Boston, it'll be his true coming-out party for the masses. One of the great NBA showmen will finally have a stage. 

The only downside to Walker signing in Boston is perhaps it continues to stunt the growth of Tatum and Brown, who both took a step back last year after leading the Celtics to Game 7 of the 2018 conference finals in Irving's absence. Once Irving came back in the fold as a dominant ball handler, Brown and Tatum were always going to be somewhat neutralized. The same could be true with Walker running the show.

That said, Walker is way better than Tatum and Brown right now, so that's the way it goes. This makes the Celtics a better team in the near term, and Walker is still just 29 years old, without a single playoff minute on his legs the past three seasons, so it's not like you can't build looking forward with Walker as well. 

Also, again, Walker's presence would just be much lighter than Irving's, even if their games are roughly the same. The comfort level for Tatum and Brown going back to asserting themselves, or at least finding more authority in secondary roles, would appear to be greater next to Walker, who has been a naturally galvanizing force dating back to his college days when he carried UConn on one of the great national title runs in history. 

Walker is the type of star teammates will kill for. The kind of guy they'll put up on their shoulders after he's done carrying them. Irving is just a great basketball player. On his own. To me, the potential for the Celtics to return to the inclusive, sum-is-greater-than-the-parts team they were before, and without, Irving, is much greater with Walker on board. 

In the end, people don't completely see Kemba Walker as a championship-level franchise player, and the second Kyrie leaves, the same people will write the Celtics off as a championship contender. Kemba is a lifelong underdog. The Celtics were better when they weren't the favorite. This is a chip-on-the-shoulder marriage that makes sense on so many levels

Now, if the Celtics can only Kemba him away from the Lakers, who suddenly have max cap space

Buckle up.