In the final days before training camp, Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho will sign another big man and tentatively explore a contract extension for point guard Kemba Walker.
Cho said Thursday he will sign nine-season NBA veteran Jason Maxiell to a nonguaranteed contract Friday. That addresses the Hornets’ concern about having just four healthy big men entering camp without locking up the 15th and final roster spot.
Cho also said he has had preliminary discussions with Walker’s agent about a possible extension. If the Hornets don’t re-sign Walker by the end of October, he will become a restricted free agent in July.
The Hornets haven’t typically re-signed players on rookie-scale contracts before they at least reach restricted free agency.
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“We’ve had some initial talks,” Cho said. “I don’t want to get into the discussions because I don’t think that would be fair to Kemba or his agent. It’s just started.”
Walker enters his fourth NBA season having averaged 17.7 points and 6.1 assists last season. Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe, with similar stats last season (but a far better shooting percentage), signed a five-year, $70 million contract Wednesday with the Suns.
A pending television deal with ABC/ESPN and Turner Sports is expected to be lucrative enough to raise NBA salary caps considerably the next few years. That could raise the price on players like Walker at a key position.
Walker was one of the players Cho praised for diligence this offseason. Cho also singled out center Al Jefferson, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and shooting guard Gary Neal.
Cho said he appreciates how Walker has tried to be more of a leader.
“Maybe it doesn’t come naturally to him (telling others what to do), but he does it by his actions – just little things like gathering guys to do a voluntary workout,” Cho said.
“If you ask him, he’s definitely more comfortable now in his fourth year than in his second year. He’s comfortable with who he is in the league – the whole maturation process.”
Cho on other topics
• On bringing in 6-foot-7 forward Maxiell, 31, who played eight seasons with the Detroit Pistons and last season with the Orlando Magic: “Jason is a guy with a lot of experience. He’s got a strong basketball IQ and he’s a good teammate. … If we have 15 (guaranteed contracts), we have a lot less flexibility than 14, but we want to be covered in the frontcourt.”
• On Neal’s offseason: “Gary Neal really worked on his body. Since last February (when the Hornets traded for him), he’s lost 25 pounds. He looks terrific. He made a huge commitment this summer.”
• On rookie Noah Vonleh’s sports hernia surgery (the only known injury entering camp Tuesday in Asheville): “Noah has been on the floor doing some elliptical, started doing some shooting.”
• On the offseason acquisitions (Lance Stephenson, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts, P.J. Hairston and Vonleh): “We feel like we’ve gotten better as a team. There are a lot of teams that got better in the East. But we weren’t that far away from getting a lot higher playoff spot last season. We feel like we’re in a good spot going forward.”
• On the Hornets rebranding: “I think the (players) are definitely starting to understand it. I didn’t realize it when I first came here – how big was the name and the colors. It’s amazing and exciting. Everybody talks about it around town.”
• On his changed role after the departure of president of basketball operations Rod Higgins: “I’ll be traveling with the team a little bit more than in the past.”
• On how signing Jefferson two summers ago changed the perception of Charlotte for NBA free agents: “Bringing Al here was a big step in the right direction. … Then it carried over at the start of this free-agency (period).
“Gordon Hayward, one of the top free agents, chose to sign an offer sheet. Utah matched and then we signed Lance Stephenson, the top remaining free agent. … I think it shows how attractive Charlotte is as a free-agent destination, not just from a city standpoint, but from a coaching standpoint as well.”