At mid-afternoon Tuesday, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan said he was intent on signing Kemba Walker to a contract extension by Friday’s NBA deadline.
Five hours later the deal was done. Walker and the Hornets have agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal that will start in 2015-16, according to a knowledgeable source.
ESPN.com first reported the terms of Walker’s deal Tuesday night. Walker will make $3.45 million this season under his original rookie contract.
Walker made it clear his desire was to stay in Charlotte long-term. The then-Bobcats drafted him ninth overall in 2011, and Walker worked his way through those terrible two seasons going 28-120.
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Last season he averaged 17.7 points and 6.1 assists, playing a big role in the Bobcats’ unexpected drive to the second playoff berth in franchise history.
In an interview with the Observer Tuesday afternoon, Jordan laid out the importance of retaining Walker and center Al Jefferson, who can opt out of the final year of his contract this summer.
“I’d much rather get Kemba done before the season starts,” Jordan said. “Ultimately that’s what I intend to accomplish. We’re in real conversations. I’m hopeful. Really hopeful.
“They are core pieces of what we’re trying to do. I’d like to keep both of those guys. I say I’d like to, and I’d spend the money that’s appropriate. I’ll make every attempt to keep them.”
The Hornets haven’t typically extended players on the rookie wage scale at least until they reach restricted free-agency. In this case, Walker’s asking price figured to keep going up, in part because of the anticipated rise in the salary cap from the NBA’s new television deal.
The new deal will nearly triple national television revenue from ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports. That has already started affecting player salaries. The Phoenix Suns recently signed point guard Eric Bledsoe to a contract that will pay him $14 million a season.
So Walker making more than $10 million a season is now in line with his talent and the position that he plays. In general, centers and point guards are the most in-demand positions in the NBA.
Once Walker signs, the Hornets will have two of their top three players under contract at least through the 2016-17 season. The Hornets signed free-agent shooting guard Lance Stephenson to a three-year, $27.4 million contract in July. The last season of Stephenson’s deal is a team option.
Jefferson, scheduled to make $13.5 million this season, has strongly indicated his desire to remain in Charlotte, playing for coach Steve Clifford. So even if he opts out this summer, there is still a good chance the Hornets could re-sign him.
Jordan made it clear Tuesday how much he values Jefferson, a key free-agent signing in the summer of 2012.
“Al is a straight shooter. We love him,” Jordan said. “He took a gamble on us. That obviously plays into our thinking.”