Despite suffering a left-hand fracture on Opening Night in Cleveland, Hornets center Cody Zeller quickly made his way back to the lineup and provided the team’s young core with plenty of leadership, stability and experience at the frontcourt position.
The longest continuously-tenured member of the team closed out his eighth NBA season with averages of 9.4 points on 55.9% shooting, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 48 total appearances, 21 of which were starts. Following his injury, Zeller returned to the starting five-spot before swapping out with Bismack Biyombo to close out the final two months of the schedule.
“I don’t think too many people outside the locker room expected us to have good year,” said Zeller during exit interviews. “Obviously, we wanted more than [losing in the Play-In Game], but we have a talented team. Unfortunately, it was the injuries – mine early on in the season, Gordon and LaMelo missed a good chunk near the end. What’s encouraging is the amount of talent that we have on this roster, especially with the younger guys. I think it was a decent year overall and gives us hope for moving forward.”
Zeller finished second on the team in net rating this season (2.0) and also recorded eight double-doubles. He matched a single-game career high with 15 rebounds and dished out a season-high seven assists against Milwaukee on Jan. 30 and scored in double figures in seven of the team’s last eight regular season outings.
“I’m willing to put my body on the line,” he said. “I don’t need any of the credit, but there’s a reason why my teammates are getting open shots or why we’re playing better when I’m on the court. I think I can bring a lot to a winning team. We saw it at the end of last year how much the younger guys were improving and then you add guys like Gordon and LaMelo. I think that we knew the amount of talent that we had – we just had to put it all together. Bad luck, bad injuries, bad timing, whatever it was, we came up a little bit short.”
And for the first time in his NBA career, Zeller will be an unrestricted free agent heading into this offseason. Now 28 years old, the Indiana University product’s upcoming decision will likely come down to a pair of important factors, he said.
“It’s crazy – my first free agency. I’ve only played for one team, so I don’t know how it’ll go or even logistically how it goes. I am eight years into my career and who knows how much longer I’m going to do this. I think the biggest thing is just being somewhere where I’m valued. I just want to win. I think we can make that step here if we’re all healthy and make that jump to becoming a competitive team that can make a deep run.”
No matter what happens though, Zeller says he doesn’t have any regrets about how things played out in Charlotte and will wait and see what transpires in the coming months.
“I think I can look myself in the mirror and know I put everything into it every time I stepped into this arena, whether it was a workout, practice or game night,” he stated. “That helps me sleep well at night knowing I left it all out there for the organization. I love this city of Charlotte. Moving here when I was twenty years old, it’s embraced me. Played with a lot of good teammates, coaches and made a lot of life-long friendships. I don’t where the future will take me, but it’s been a great eight years. I’ve made Charlotte home, so we’ll see what happens.”