Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said that standout guard Kemba Walker was "definitely hot himself" during the restarted season in the NBA bubble near Orlando.
The Celtics reached the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the Miami Heat in six games and Ainge indicated Walker's health was an issue the entire time.
The 30-year-old's three-time surgically repaired left knee was hampering him throughout the 2 1/2 months the team spent at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
"I could see, even when he was (in Boston) before the bubble started, which is why he was shut down a little bit and doing strength training and trying to prepare himself for the playoff run and the intensity of the playoff run, but he was definitely not himself," Ainge said during a season wrap-up conference call on Thursday.
"In fairness to Kemba, he doesn't want to say that. He doesn't say that to our coaches. He doesn't say that to you, the media. He doesn't say that to me. I haven't heard one excuse from him. But watching the games, even the games we won, even the games where he played well, I could tell he wasn't the same physically as he was in October, November, December. So we're going to try to get that Kemba back."
Walker averaged 20.4 points in his first season with Boston after spending eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets.
He was an All-Star for the fourth time and also averaged 4.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range. Walker knocked down 180 3-pointers in 56 games, and would have topped 200 for the fourth straight season if not for the coronavirus pandemic interrupting the season.
But in the postseason, Walker shot just 31 percent from long range in 17 outings while averaging 19.6 points.
"Even not at his best, he still averaged 19 or 20 points per game in the playoffs," Ainge said. "He still is a really good player, but he's not what he was. There's nothing more frustrating for an athlete to be on the biggest stage in the world in your sport and not be able to be yourself. I've been there before as a player. It's not fun. It's stressful."
The Celtics are built around young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as they search for their first title since 2008.
Brown was signed to a reported four-year, $115 million extension prior to the 2019-20 season while Tatum is currently scheduled to make $9.9 million next season as part of his four-year, $30 million rookie pact.
Ainge sounds confident that Tatum's salary should be will taking a big leap soon.
"Jayson knows how much we like him," Ainge said. "We have a good relationship. Jayson likes it here, so I'm confident that we'll be able to work something out this summer -- this offseason, I should say."
--Field Level Media