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ATLANTA — Tyler Zeller was a superstar at the University of North Carolina and a first-round pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012. While the 7-footer’s career hasn’t led to any All-Star Games or max contracts, he was still a serviceable big man in the NBA.
These days, the 29-year-old has had to find other ways to stay in the league. After splitting time between the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks last season, Zeller was not on a roster to start the season. Last week, the Atlanta Hawks signed him to a 10-day contract.
When you have a family, an extremely short-term contract can be difficult, but that can be life in the big leagues.
“It’s tough,” Zeller told Amico Hoops after a recent practice. “When you’re on a contract you obviously know you’re going to be here.”
Zeller has a wife and toddler living back in North Carolina.
“Being on a contract, you can get an apartment, move your family in, all that,” he said. “In a hotel room with a 2-year-old, you can’t really do that.”
For at least these 10 days, Zeller is in Atlanta by himself. He is FaceTiming home as much as possible, and added that his wife is supportive of the opportunity.
“The good part is it’s an opportunity for me to play and do what I love,” he said.
Right before he came over to speak, the veteran had just knocked down 3-pointer after 3-pointer. This Hawks team has quickly built a reputation as being one of the better shooting teams in the league, and a big man who can shoot is extremely valuable in today’s NBA. There’s also always the chance Zeller could stick for the rest of the season.
“Hopefully, this goes longer than than just one 10-day; we’ll see what happens,” he said. “If it’s not, I’ll see them Monday. (Otherwise) will try to figure out a way to get them here.”
The Hawks are not the first team Zeller has been in touch with this season, but their offer was the first that was “solid.”
“We’ve had teams talking to me all year,” he said. “Obviously, I want to play. I want to be a part of something.”
Back in North Carolina, Zeller has been working out almost every day, from lifting to shooting, and has just found ways to stay ready. However, coming to a team mid-season, no matter how in shape a player gets, can take some getting used to.
“It’s been good,” he said of his early run with the Hawks. “Just trying to get back into rhythm.”
The Hawks gave Zeller a chance to play in the first game after he signed. He has appeared in two games thus far, averaging 3.0 rebounds in 5.5 minutes.
While the minutes will likely be limited, there’s no question that the six-year veteran is looking to make the most of his new opportunity and is sure to be ready when called.