Continuing a trend over the past several years, the Charlotte Hornets have extended a player in their young core before he reaches free-agency.
With about 90 minutes to spare before an NBA deadline Monday night, the Hornets came to terms on a four-season, $56 million extension for center Cody Zeller, an informed source said. The deal kicks in next season, avoiding Zeller becoming a restricted free agent.
Hornets general manager Rich Cho similarly signed Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeremy Lamb before those players came off the rookie pay scale.
Zeller, the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, started 60 games for the Hornets last season, averaging 8.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. He moved into the starting lineup primarily after Al Jefferson had mid-season knee surgery.
Zeller suffered a severe bone bruise in his right knee in Game 3 of the playoff series versus the Miami Heat last spring. The injury lingered to the extent that Zeller missed all seven preseason exhibitions.
He was cleared to play in the season-opener and has averaged 10.7 points and five rebounds in the Hornets’ 2-1 start. With Roy Hibbert missing time because of soreness in his right knee, Zeller moved back into the starting lineup for Saturday’s home loss to the Boston Celtics. He will likely start Wednesday versus the Philadelphia 76ers.
Cho has been aggressive in extending young players on the rookie pay scale before they ever reach free-agency. In the case of Walker, that resulted in a $12 million-per-season average salary that now looks like a bargain with the NBA’s salary cap skyrocketing based on new national television deals.
This deal came together rapidly Monday night, after a source familiar with the situation said Monday afternoon it was unlikely the two sides would come to terms by midnight.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell