Cody Zeller on contract extension: ‘$56 million is crazy – I would play this game for free’


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Cody Zeller said he’s always considered himself a simple kid from Indiana.

Well, now he’s a simple rich kid from Indiana.

The 7-foot Zeller signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets. The four-year deal was announced Tuesday and Zeller himself confirmed the overall value.

“You know, $56 million is crazy – I would play this game for free,” Zeller said during a press conference. “… This is way more money than I would spend in three lifetimes.”

Zeller has improved statistically every year since coming into the league as the fourth overall pick in 2013 NBA draft.

General manager Rich Cho called Zeller a high character guy who plays both ends of the floor, and said he considers him a “big part” of the team’s core group moving forward.

“We felt it was important to get him locked up to an extension rather than have him be a restricted free agent next summer,” Cho said. “With the cap next summer along with Cody’s value around the league as a young, versatile athletic big we felt he would have been a target for a number of teams.”

Zeller said he spent Monday stressing out about the contract negotiations simply because he wanted to know what his future held. The two sides ultimately reached a deal just before midnight .

“More than anything I like the insurance of knowing that I will be here long term,” Zeller said.

Zeller, who starred collegiately at Indiana, has appeared in 220 games with 109 starts during his four-year career with Charlotte. He has averaged 7.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 21.5 minutes per game.

Last season he started 60 games and posted career highs of 8.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 24.3 minutes per game as the Hornets finished tied for the third-best record (48-34) in the Eastern Conference.

Zeller said Hornets coach Steve Clifford and the organization has shown the utmost confidence in him ever since they drafted him, which is one of the reasons he wanted to stay in Charlotte. He started his career with the Hornets as a power forward, but has since moved almost exclusively to center.

He’s currently splitting time in the starting lineup with Roy Hibbert.

This is the third consecutive season the Hornets have taken at least one player off the market before they’ve completed their rookie contract and were allowed to become restricted free agents.

The others were Kemba Walker in 2014 and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeremy Lamb in 2015.

“We wanted to make sure we had some continuity with our core moving forward,” Cho said. “And the other piece is any valuable player who goes into restricted free agency, he has a chance to get a big offer sheet. If you give an extension you more or less control the situation a lot better than have to match an offer sheet. It only takes one team, and there are some teams desperate to get restricted free agents.”