Antoine Walker hasn’t had a job in the NBA for nearly 21 months.
He doesn’t have a known invite to an NBA training camp, either, with just two weeks to go before most teams are scheduled to assemble for Practice No. 1 of the new season.
But Walker does have a former college teammate and very close friend that plays for the Charlotte Bobcats, whose new owner isn’t just a living legend but another longtime Walker pal.
So it certainly made some sense when word reached Stein Line HQ on Sunday night that Toine is expected to arrive in Charlotte this week to stay with Bobcats center Nazr Mohammed, his buddy and fellow Kentucky Wildcat, and join in daily pickup games at the Bobcats’ facility leading up to the start of camp on Sept. 28.
Emphasis on some.
Despite Walker's Charlotte connections, one source close to the situation says that the three-time former All-Star has no assurances from the Bobcats that he’ll be extended an official opportunity to stay for camp and attempt to make their team, no matter how far he goes back with Bobcats boss Michael Jordan. It is not yet known whether Walker can score that invite with a successful tryout in Charlotte, after a recent Twitter posting from John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal hinting at that possibility.
It’s hard to see, frankly, how Walker could even fit with the Bobcats, given that his let-it-fly nature doesn’t exactly mesh with Larry Brown’s ever-conservative approach and with Charlotte already possessing so many players in Toine’s tweener size range: Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Tyrus Thomas. Another fair question: Do the Bobcats, for all of Brown’s alleged restorative powers, really have room for another reclamation project after the recent signing of Kwame Brown and Friday’s news that Darius Miles will be invited to training camp on a non-guaranteed basis?
The presumption in front-office circles is that Walker A) doesn’t have many options these days and B) doesn’t just long to make an NBA comeback but flat-out needs to land a steady job to start digging out of the considerable legal and financial woes that he openly termed “a disaster” in this chilling “Outside The Lines” piece by ESPN’s Mark Schwarz in March. So getting on the floor with other NBA players in an NBA team’s practice gym, by any means, only figures to help his cause.
It’s also worth noting that the recent claims by Walker’s uncle and former major leaguer Chico Walker – who told WEEI.com’s Jessica Camerato in August that Toine has lost 18 to 25 pounds this summer in workouts at the University of Louisville arranged by his former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino – have apparently not been exaggerated. Multiple witnesses who have seen Toine playing this month at Tim Grover’s gym in Chicago told ESPN.com over the weekend that Walker looks as fit as he has for some time.
So consider my curiosity piqued. Although we haven’t witnessed a rush of league execs backing Chico Walker’s claim that “four to six” NBA teams have expressed interest – after Toine lasted only eight games in the Puerto Rican league last season and then got criticized in the OTL piece by Guaynabo Mets general manager Marcelo Garcia for his conditioning and productivity – perhaps he is somehow closer to an NBA comeback than skeptics believe.
Initial attempts to reach Walker have been unsuccessful, but I have to admit that I’ve still got a stubborn soft spot for the guy, despite his well-worn flaws. So count me among those wanting to believe that Toine got more done in summer school than anyone imagines.