The Charlotte Hornets are known as a smart team these days, and they made another smart decision today by picking up the team options on second-year big man Cody Zeller and third-year swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Both players are considered very important to the Hornets' future. When they missed out on Anthony Davis a few years ago, they smartly went for the next best thing in Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist is everything you'd want in an NBA player; he's athletic with an impressive physical profile, he's unbelievably humble and hardworking, and at the end of the day, he just wants to win.
Zeller was drafted in 2013 with the fourth pick, which many analysts considered a bit of a reach. The verdict on Zeller is still unknown, as despite a rough start to his rookie season, he showed flashes of brilliance after the All-Star break. It remains to be seen if Zeller will continue to develop into the stretch big the Hornets are hoping he'll be, but there's no question he's a very skilled and humble player.
Being on their rookie deals, both players have exceptional value to the Hornets. To find players with equal talent in free agency, the Hornets would likely have to pay significantly more. For example, Kemba Walker just signed an extension yesterday, which will see him go from making about $3.72 million this season to over $10 million next season.
Interestingly, there's been no word on whether or not the Hornets will extend Bismack Biyombo, who was drafted the same year as Walker. If he's to be extended, the Hornets and Biyombo must agree to a deal by the October 31 deadline, which is just days away. It seems likely that the Hornets will pass on extending Biyombo, which is unfortunate because he's been well liked in Charlotte despite his obvious limitations. By not extending him, the Hornets will give themselves additional flexibility to pursue an upgrade at the power forward spot, the Hornets' weakest position by far. At this point, Zeller is an unsure thing and rookie Noah Vonleh will need time to develop.