Hornets lock up LaMelo Ball on big 5-year deal

LaMelo Ball and the Hornets have agreed to a rookie max extension that will pay the star guard up to $260 million. (Craig Lassig / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte Hornets can rest easy — their franchise player isn’t going anywhere.

Star point guard LaMelo Ball has agreed in principle to a five-year designated rookie max extension that will pay him up to $260 million, according to multiple reports. The All-Star and former Rookie of the Year was heading into the final season of his rookie contract and subsequently eligible for an extension. The deal keeps Ball with Charlotte through the 2028-29 season.

Although some doubted he would agree to the proposed terms, Ball became the first Hornets player to sign a max extension to a rookie contract since Michael Jordan bought the franchise 13 years ago.

While an injury-plagued campaign last season raises some concerns about Ball’s ability to stay on the court, he told reporters in March that he expects to be ready for training camp in September.

“It’s tough,” Ball said on March 20, referencing the fractured right ankle he suffered in February. “I mean, probably annoying just going through it, but I’m still alive and stuff like that, so you can’t really be too mad. Just go through the rehab, do that whole process and try to come out on top.”

After the draft, where Charlotte landed Alabama star wing Brandon Miller with the No. 2 pick, Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke to reporters about Ball’s status.

“His bone was 100% healed six weeks ago,” Kupchak said. “He’s been on the basketball court for four to six weeks, running and jumping on the court. He has not done any scrimmages yet. He hasn’t done any one-on-one or any two-on-two. He could, but what’s the rush? We’re not even to July 1 yet. He’s not ahead of schedule — and this is exactly what the doctors expected — but we’re good.”

Ball could use ankle braces going forward to avoid further injuries.

The Hornets are also getting back Miles Bridges.

The 25-year-old forward signed his $7.9 million qualifying offer from Charlotte on Sunday, according to reports. Bridges missed all of last season after he was charged with domestic violence in July 2022. He pleaded no contest last November and is serving three years of probation. The NBA gave Bridges a 30-game suspension earlier this offseason but added that because Bridges missed the entirety of last season that 20 of those games are considered already served.

He will miss the first 10 games of this season.

Bridges was coming off a career season in 2021-22 when he averaged a team-high 20.2 points and 7.0 rebounds and appeared on the verge of signing a multiyear contract worth more than $100 million last summer.

By signing the qualifying offer, Bridges would become eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after next season.

Charlotte also extended qualifying offers to two other players: P.J. Washington and Theo Maledon. Washington, 24, could be looking at a deal worth upward of $15 million per year and will likely draw interest from teams looking for a power forward that can stretch the floor.

Multiple outlets have reported that Charlotte is also considering making an offer to restricted free agent and Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams, whose potential addition wouldn’t necessarily prevent the Hornets from re-signing Washington.

As for Maledon, the Hornets will have to decide if he factors into the team’s future as a rotational guard.

Per reports, the Hornets free agent guard Dennis Smith Jr. has agreed to a one-year deal with the Nets, a move that could lead to Charlotte re-signing Maledon. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 6.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 44 games last season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.