NBA free agency 2023: LaMelo Ball agrees to 5-year max extension with Hornets

LaMelo Ball has signed a max extension to his rookie contract. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
LaMelo Ball has signed a max extension to his rookie contract. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

LaMelo Ball will continue his career as the face of the Charlotte Hornets.

In a landmark deal for the franchise, the Hornets and Ball agreed to a five-year max rookie extension worth up to $260 million, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. The deal is the first of its kind for the Hornets since Michael Jordan bought the franchise in 2010. No other player drafted during the Jordan era signed a max extension to his rookie contract.

The deal also represents a commitment to building around Ball from a new team ownership group led by former minority owner Gabe Plotkin and ex-Atlanta Hawks minority owner Rick Schnall. Jordan announced the pending sale of his majority stake June 16, but will retain a minority share of the team.

Ball has lived up to lofty expectations since the Hornets drafted him third overall in 2020. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2021 despite injuries including a broken wrist limiting him to 51 games. He's since improved statistically across the board including as a high-volume 3-point shooter. He made his first All-Star team during the 2021-22 season.

In three seasons, Ball's averaged 19.4 points, 7.3 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 42.6% from the floor and 37.7% from 3-point distance on 8.9 attempts per game. Before a fractured ankle cut his 2022-23 season short at 36 games, Ball was averaging 23.2 points, 8.4 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 41.1% from the field and 37.6% from 3.

While Ball has missed 84 of a possible 246 games in three seasons, the Hornets value his upside on the court and to the franchise's bottom line over any lingering injury concerns. The Hornets drafted Alabama star forward Brandon Miller with the second pick of the June 22 draft over lauded point guard Scoot Henderson, signaling that they prioritize Ball as the team's backcourt leader.

The Hornets hope that Ball and Miller can propel a lineup supported by former All-Star Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier into postseason contention. The Hornets signed Rozier to a $97 million extension in 2021 that runs through the 2025-26 season.

The Hornets haven't made the postseason in 2016, a seven-year drought that is the longest in the NBA. If Miller lives up to expectations and Charlotte's key players stay healthy, they project as a playoff contender next season. Charlotte posted its only winning record (43-3) since 2016 in 2021-22 when Ball played 75 games. It finished 27-55 last season as Ball missed 46 games.