CHARLOTTE — LaMelo Ball could’ve tried to force his way out of Charlotte in hopes of landing with an established NBA playoff contender in the next few years.
Instead, the 2022 All-Star point guard decided to embrace his current situation with the struggling Hornets by signing a five-year deal earlier this month that will pay him up to $260 million. In so doing, he became first Hornets player to sign a rookie max contract extension, giving Charlotte a cornerstone piece to build around.
Ball said he chose to remain in Charlotte because he’s comfortable living there and believes in what the Hornets are trying to create.
“Where we at, I feel like we are all growing together,” Ball said Wednesday in his first news conference since signing the contract. “I think it’s just a great position and I think we are all going the right way now.”
Ball said the decision to stay wasn’t tough.
“All my years here I’ve had a good time,” Ball said. “Life wasn’t bad. The basketball aspect, if that’s not really going well, then you want to just live your life and have fun. You want to be living well, and in Charlotte I’m doing that. It all just felt like a great choice.”
General manager Mitch Kupchak said keeping a player like Ball is a big step for the Hornets.
He thinks Charlotte is on the verge of snapping a streak of seven straight seasons without making the playoffs, the longest active streak in the league.
“We have not had great success as a team, which is something that will change,” Kupchak said. “To have a player like him back with us, just to come back to us, it’s exciting.”
Kupchak said the team’s goal has been to build through the draft.
Aside from re-signing Ball and Miles Bridges, the Hornets weren’t very active in the free agent market. That’s largely by design, as Kupchak wants to give younger players a chance to develop. He said big-name free agents will want to come to Charlotte once the organization begins winning more games.
“I’m not thinking we necessarily have to add more talent,” Kupchak said. “I think the talent we need to get where we want to go is already in the system. Now it’s just going to take a little time to get everybody up to speed and get to where we want to get to. I don’t think there’s a major area that needs to be addressed.”
The big contract certainly adds pressure on Ball, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft. But the laid-back 21-year-old said that is something he’s never worried about on the court — and he isn’t about to start now.
“Growing up, my pops always said pressure was finding your next meal, finding where to sleep, stuff like that,” Ball said of his father, LaVar Ball. “I’m pretty much blessed. I just have to worry about playing good. Really no problems. I’m straight.”
Ball is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he was limited to 36 games. He had a series of ankle injuries, including a fracture in late February that shut him down for good and required surgery.
When he played, he produced at a high level, averaging a career-best 23.3 points and 8.2 assists per game while shooting 37.6% from 3-point range.
Ball said he’s 100% healthy now and eager to make a bigger impact.
“That’s a lot of motivation to get back on the court and do what I love,” Ball said.
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