Al Horford’s Ex-Boss Sounds off on Big Trade, Role With Celtics

Al Horford, now a Celtic

Getty Al Horford (right), now a Celtic

The 35-year-old big guy went out and averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds over 29.1 minutes in the regular season. Then he pumped it up to 12.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in 35.4 minutes in the playoffs.

Even leaving out the great effect the man had on his team’s defense and general offensive flow, there were a number of NBA people who were surprised at Al Horford’s production for the Celtics.

Sam Presti wasn’t one of those people.

The Oklahoma City general manager had essentially put Horford on a shelf for the last two months of the 2020-21 season as the Thunder kicked its reconstruction project into a new gear. There was a need to look at players who had a chance to be there when again the club hoped to be playing for something meaningful.

That Presti moved Horford to a Celtic situation befitting a player needing a shot at a championship in the latter stages of his career was a hoped-for bonus. (And with Rob Williams requiring another knee surgery ahead of this season, the Celts need Al even more.)

“Well, I couldn’t be more happy for him — both professionally and personally,” Presti told Heavy Sports. “He’s one of the true pros that I’ve come across in the time that I’ve done this.”

Pro enough to start and play a key role in the Celts’ run to the Finals. Pro enough to step up his execution from 46.7% shooting (33.6% on 3-pointers) to 52.3% and 48.0%, in the regular season and playoffs, respectively. Pro enough to maintain the middle and help Williams realize more of his potential.

“I’m not surprised that he was able to contribute the way that he did,” Presti said of Horford. “I think it was a great thing and a credit to Brad (Stevens, Celtic head of basketball ops) and his staff that they recognized how he could help them in the ways that he did. I’m happy for him, and I think he’ll continue to be a big part of that team going forward.

“I didn’t watch all the games, but when I did, the things that he was doing were similar to things that he was doing for our team. Just, obviously, Boston’s in a much different stage in their development and timeline and are well past the stage that we’re in. And I think that him being in an environment like that at this part of his career is fitting.

“Yeah, I was happy for him — but not totally shocked that he was able to do that. And I just can’t stress enough that Brad was really clear about how that fit would work for them. It made a lot of sense.”


Horford Will Be Critical This Season for the Celtics

That fit may have been even better than the Celtics could have hoped. Horford allowed Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to each move over a position and gain a size advantage while also allowing Williams to blossom. Now the club has to hope Al can help them weather the Timelord’s rehab period with whomever fills Williams’ role in the rotation.

In any case, the Celts will be monitoring Horford’s playing time closely as they try to get him ready to rumble in the postseason.

It’s a far different situation than that which greeted Al in Oklahoma City. Horford started for the Thunder after being acquired from Philadelphia before the delayed 2020 season, but the greater get in that deal was likely the first round pick OKC got from the Sixers. Presti got another one from the Celtics to accept Kemba Walker for Horford and Moses Brown, whom the C’s subsequently shipped off for Josh Richardson.

Al wasn’t destined for a long term stay in Oklahoma.

“We were coming off a seven-game playoff loss and we had recently moved Chris Paul to Phoenix,” Presti said. “We were beginning the early stages of repositioning and replenishing our team.

“I think (Horford) was great for all the players we had. A lot of them were cutting their teeth in the NBA. But we also had a first-year coach, and Al was exceptional with Mark (Daigneault). I’m sure Ime (Udoka, the Celtics’ own first-year head coach) benefited as well from the fact that he’s just such a stable presence on and off the floor. But he’s a player that I’m, like, really proud walked through our halls and wore our uniform, albeit for a very short amount of time. We were close a couple of times when we were kind of in our peak years with some of our better teams to bringing him on in a trade. But better late than never, I guess.”


Thunder Sought to Trade Horford to a Contender

And as opposed to when the Thunder were going for it in the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook era, the Horford fit was no longer there.

“I think he did help us in the short time that he was with us. At the same time, we also recognized that at the stage that he was at, he wanted to play for a contending team,” said Presti.

“He came into our organization, put both feet in, was a true pro, contributed on and off the court. I was confident that we’d be able to figure something out for him the following year. I feel very grateful for the trust that he and Jason (Glushon) showed in us in following the plan that we laid out, and it worked out for him. But he’s a consummate pro and a great player, and I’m just happy for him.”

 

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