Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ Walker signs $48 million deal, embraces role in team’s improvement

The money – $48 million over four seasons – obviously counts for a lot in why Kemba Walker is sticking around Charlotte.

But it’s more than that, the Hornets point guard says: The native New Yorker has grown to love Charlotte and its people. And finishing what he started in 2011 is important.

“From Day 1, we weren’t so good,” Walker said of his 7-59 rookie season.

“Now everyone is talking about us, how we can be good. We enter the season with high expectations and years ago it wasn’t like that. I’m happy to say I’ve been a part of this rebuilding process.

“Now that we’ve become good I want to keep us good. I want to be in the middle of that. That’s why I really appreciate these guys giving me another four years.”

Walker officially signed the extension Thursday that was agreed to Tuesday night. Sources say he’ll make $48 million in a deal that starts the 2015-16 season and runs through 2018-19.

This is an unprecedented move by the Bobcats/Hornets. Never before has the franchise pre-emptively taken a player off the market before he at least reaches restricted free-agency.

What’s different about Walker?

“Kemba embodies everything we want in a Charlotte Hornet,” general manager Rich Cho said at Thursday’s news conference. “He has a strong work ethic. He’s really improved over the last three years. He’s a true professional. He’s a great, great competitor and a true teammate…

“And as you can see from last night, he also makes big shots.”

The timing of this announcement was ideal. Wednesday night Walker hit the shot that forced overtime against the Milwaukee Bucks, then the shot that clinched a 108-106 opening-night victory.

By his own description, Walker was over-stimulated entering Wednesday’s season-opener. He had a sleepless night Tuesday after hearing about the extension, and the hysteria over the rebranded Hornets got the best of him early against the Bucks.

“Throughout the whole game I was trying to relax, but the crowd and the atmosphere just gave me goose bumps all night,” Walker said. “I hope it’s like that every night.”

Walker arrived in Charlotte having won a national championship at Connecticut, but he was far from a finished product. He was a shoot-first point guard who needed to figure out the game’s nuances.

Hornets assistant coach Mark Price, a former All-Star point guard, has been a big help in that regard. Price arrived in Charlotte last season as part of coach Steve Clifford’s staff.

For all the attention paid to Price’s work with small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot, he’s been just as helpful in making Walker savvier at the point.

“Last season my pace got a lot better and that had to do with coach Price,” Walker said. “He’s helped me a lot with changing speeds in the pick-and-roll. I’m able to see things a lot slower now – taking my time. I’m able to get other guys involved.”

“He’s been great with every aspect of the game. Pick-and-roll situations, not having to get all the way to the basket every time – pull up or shoot the floater. Seeing guys and he’s helped a lot with my shot as well.”

Cho started working on this extension months ago. He reminded Walker of that at the start of Thursday’s announcement.

“I said, ‘Hey Kemba, in September and October we’re going to talk about a contract extension.’

“One thing I said was ‘I hope you’re here for a long, long time.’ ”

Related stories from Charlotte Observer