LaMelo Ball could have attempted to squeeze his way out of Charlotte in hopes of ending up with an established NBA playoff contender in the years to come.
Instead, the 2022 All-Star point guard decided to accept his current situation with the struggling Hornets by signing a five-year deal earlier this month that will net him up to $260 million. In doing so, he became the first Hornets player to sign a rookie Max contract extension, giving Charlotte a cornerstone to build on.
Ball said he chose to stay in Charlotte because he feels comfortable there and believes in what the Hornets are trying to create.
“Where we are now, I have the feeling that we are all growing together,” Ball said on Wednesday in his first press conference since signing the contract. “I think it’s just a great position and I think we’re all on the right track now.”
Ball said the decision to stay wasn’t a difficult one.
“All my years here I’ve had a good time,” Ball said. “Life wasn’t bad. As for the basketball aspect, when it’s not going really well, you just want to live your life and have fun. You want to live well, and in Charlotte I do. It just all felt like a great choice.”
General Manager Mitch Kupchak said that keeping a player like Ball was a big step for the Hornets.
He believes Charlotte is close to ending a streak of seven straight seasons without making the playoffs, the longest active streak in the league.
“We didn’t have much success as a team, that will change,” said Kupchak. “To have a player like him back with us, just coming back to us, that’s exciting.”
Kupchak said the team’s goal was to progress through the draft.
Aside from the re-signing of Ball and Miles Bridges, the Hornets haven’t been very active in the free-agent market. This is mostly intentional as Kupchak wants to give younger players a chance to develop. He said big-name free agents would want to come to Charlotte once the organization starts winning more games.
“I don’t think we necessarily need 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 will only be a little while before everyone catches up and gets where we want to go. I don’t think there is a larger area that needs to be addressed.”
The big contract certainly puts more pressure on Ball, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft. But the laid-back 21-year-old said it’s something he’s never worried about on the pitch – and he won’t start now.
“Growing up, my dads used to say the pressure is finding the next meal, finding a place to sleep and stuff like that,” Ball said of his father, LaVar Ball. “I’m pretty blessed. I just have to worry about playing well. Really no problems. I am hetero.”
Ball has endured an injury-plagued season that saw him play just 36 games. He had a series of ankle injuries, including a fracture in late February that left him permanently disabled and required surgery.
When he played, he performed at a high level, averaging a best 23.3 points and 8.2 assists per game while shooting 37.6% from 3-point range.
Ball said he is now 100 percent healthy and eager to make a bigger impact.
“It’s a huge motivation to get back on the pitch and do what I love,” Ball said.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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