BOSTON — A month into his 16th season, 36-year-old Al Horford is staying in the moment. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about the future, both near and distant.
And when the Celtics veteran sees the NBA as these roaring ’20s progress, he sees himself in the picture. While it might seem prudent for someone of his age in the last year of his contract to think in smaller increments, Horford is packing for a long trip.
“Yeah, for sure, I’ve thought about it,” he told Heavy Sports as he sat at his locker following Monday’s 125-122 comeback win over Oklahoma City. “I want to keep playing for two, three more years, for sure.”
His age was a topic when he was fighting through the 2022 playoffs, even in a positive light as when one writer referred to him as the Antique Freak (guilty, Your Honor) during his ultimately successful series against Milwaukee’s Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not so much now.
Horford Emphatic About Staying in Boston
When you see how important Horford is to the Celtics’ quest for another Finals run — he’s averaging his most minutes in four years, shooting career-highs on both 2- and 3-pointers, and anchoring the inside defense in Rob Williams’ absence — it’s easy to table the question of his future here. But there is, alas, the age and the fact the Celts have thus far held him out of the second night of their three back-to-backs, as well as the contract situation.
The first is just a number to Horford, the second is precautionary maintenance and the third is a matter for further discussion. When the Celtics made the Finals last June, Horford’s partial guarantee for 2022-23 went from $14.5 million to $19.5 million. But no one believes he won’t collect the full $26.5 million.
There was no reason for the club to address the future prior to the season, and as Al pointed out Monday night, the Celtics have had a few other things on their organizational plate.
“I think obviously there’s so much stuff that’s going on here, that’s going on with the coach and stuff and just other guys and things like that where I’m just being patient,” he told Heavy.com. “I’m sure that when the time comes we’ll get to something. But, yeah, I want to keep playing.”
And keep playing in Boston.
“Yes,” Horford said emphatically.
Such decisiveness regarding his place of employment and certainly his longevity wasn’t something the younger Al Horford would have expected.
“I think earlier in my career I would have been surprised to still even been playing this year, this long,” he said. “But when I got here, I remember Danny (Ainge) talking to me. He was like, ‘Man, the way you take care of yourself, you can keep playing into your late 30s, even 40 if you want.’
“Danny said that to me my second year here. And I believed it. I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I think at that point I felt like I could. So he saw it early on, and I believe it.
“My biggest thing is just enjoying this opportunity and this moment. You know, it’s not often that you’re part of a team and you love what you have going on here, but also having a real chance. That’s something that’s special.”
Horford: ‘Everyone Is More Comfortable’
The Celtics woke up Tuesday with a league-best 11-3 record, but there’s more to it than that for Horford. Having weathered the shock of coach Ime Udoka’s suspension and assistant Joe Mazzulla’s ascension to the big chair (that he rarely uses), the C’s are carrying a different vibe as Jayson Tatum plays like an MVP, Jaylen Brown seems a lock to return to the All-Star Game and the club keeps finding ways to win.
“I feel like there was a lot of pressure last year on performing and expectations, and I think this year we understand and we know what we’re trying to do, and everyone is more comfortable with one another,” Horford said. “We’ve been able to identify how we want to play and who we want to be, and I think when you do that, it just makes everything much easier.
“There’s a sense and level of maturity from our guys, and I feel like once you’re tested in the playoffs the way that we were last year, it can do a lot of good things. And I feel like we keep each other on edge here. I think that’s the best way.”
It would seem counterintuitive that the Celtics, now having to live up to their Finals trip, are under less pressure as The Hunted.
“You would think,” said Horford, “but, actually, in my eyes, I’m kind of like having more fun.”
And in the immortal words of Pitbull, “Que no pare la fiesta.”