Three weeks ago, there was some question about what the Celtics would do with veteran big man Al Horford this summer. The team was looking at a tough decision, given that Horford is 35 and that Boston has available to it an NBA traded-player salary-cap exception worth $17 million, one that can really only be used if the Celtics create cap space.
The easiest way to create cap space, it seemed, was to decline to guarantee the final year of Horford’s contract, which would save the Celtics about $12 million. As one exec told me, “What they do with Horford depends on what happens in the next few weeks, really. Look, if they go to the Finals, they’re not letting Horford go. The math changes, and the decisions change. He has been so valuable to them, the way he has defended, the way he passes, the way he shoots.”
The Celtics are not in the Finals yet. They are just one win away from getting there, and if they do, the math does, indeed, change: Horford stands to be guaranteed $5 million more thanks to a clause in his contract, per Spotrac.
Horford Clause Could Ensure Him $5 Million
This goes back, of course, to Horford’s brief dalliance with the Sixers in 2019, when he left Boston as a free agent to sign a four-year, $108 million contract with Philadelphia. The Sixers were concerned about Horford’s age, though, and made the fourth year of the contract, worth $26.5 million total, guaranteed only for $14.5 million. That would give the team an out if Horford’s skills declined.
Horford was never a fit in Philadelphia, was shipped to Oklahoma City and was, famously, brought back to Boston before this season. It seemed a foregone conclusion that the Celtics would let Horford go after this year and save the salary money, but he’s been the team’s most reliable player in the playoffs.
That’s reason enough for the Celtics to keep Horford. But there is an added reason: A clause in his contract that boosts the guaranteed salary for next season by $5 million, to $19.5 million, should his team reach the NBA Finals.
Should the Celtics win one more game, then, the amount the Celtics could save by waiving Horford drops from $12 million to $7 million. At that point, cutting him does not make a whole lot of sense.
And should the Celtics win the NBA championship this year, Horford will have his contract fully guaranteed next year, which means he will certainly be back with the team.
Horford All but Sure to Return to Celtics
It is most likely a moot point either way because it is hard to imagine the Celtics not bringing back Horford for next season after the way he has played this year, especially in the past month-and-a-half.
Horford had a very good regular season, with averages of 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds, making 46.7% of his shots and 33.6% of his 3-pointers. Those numbers bloomed here in the spring, as he has averaged 12.9 points and 9.3 rebounds, while shooting 54.1% from the field and 48.4% from the 3-point line in the postseason.
As if that were not enough, there is also the support Horford gets from his teammates, especially star Jayson Tatum, who likely would not be happy if the Celtics let Horford walk.
“Al’s been great for the team,” Tatum said this week. “Al’s been great for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with Al for three years. And I remember coming in my rookie year and seeing Al Horford. I’d been seeing him play my whole life. And it was great to see somebody take care of their body, you know, just be the ultimate professional, the ultimate teammate. Just all about the right things. Nobody can ever say anything bad about Al. He’s helped me a great deal in the three years that we’ve played together. I’m very lucky and fortunate to be able to call Al a teammate.”