NBA Mailbag: Will Al Horford Be a Forever Celtic?

Al Horford, Celtics

Getty Al Horford, Celtics

Welcome to the first of what will be a regular NBA mailbag feature here at Heavy Sports.

Insider Steve Bulpett will answer your questions — those pertaining to current league issues and even some off-beat perspective and opinion from his 37 years covering the NBA. (Want to know what former league city he misses most? Want to know about the Celtics’ first-ever trip to Sacramento?)

We’ll try to tackle it all here in the Heavy mailbag.

Leave your questions in the comments section below or email them to sean.deveney@heavy.com. In addition, join the thousands of fans following @HeavyOnSports on Twitter and Instagram to see some of your questions answered live!


Warriors Setting the Blueprint & Al Horford’s Future With the Celtics

We’ve heard a lot about rival owners being mad at Joe Lacob for how much the Warriors spend on payroll and luxury tax, but we also know that some owners are very competitive. After the Warriors won another title with a monster payroll and tax, do you think more owners might be willing to go deeper into the luxury tax if they think a title is within reach? — Nate D., Rochester, NY

I’m not sure how many teams are motivated more by proximity to a championship than what they believe to be sound financial practices, but there is certainly evidence in the former as regards the Celtics. After keeping a close eye on the bottom line to avoid the onerous repeater tax, the Celts got within two wins of the 2022 title and have opened their wallet (and their tax bill, which will run to about $50 million when the roster is finished) this offseason in an effort to get to their 18th banner.

With no true prohibitive favorites at the top of each conference, teams are enticed to spend what it takes to stay competitive and surpass the field. But those decisions will come down to a judgment call by each club’s basketball operations staff — and then the owner looking at the bottom line and choosing whether to green light the investment. Some will be more willing than others.

I think the more interesting point here is one alluded to in your first sentence. Indeed, some owners could be angry with the Warriors and other tax teams for spending so much and potentially tipping the balance of on-court power. But I can state directly that owners who are paying the high fees now and have done so in the past are perhaps even more upset with those teams who accept payouts from the tax pool and don’t reinvest it into their own payroll — and then complain about the ones who spend over the cap.

One owner told me he wanted the NBA to require that teams put that money back into their rosters to help grow the league. “They shouldn’t just pocket the money,” he said.

I was discussing a critical peer with another of the tax-paying owners, who bluntly replied, “He didn’t complain when he was cashing our check.”

Is Al Horford going to be in Boston for the rest of his career? — Jack S., Boston

A couple of answers:

  1. He should.
  2. It’s really going to come down to health and how long Al wants to play.

Horford really didn’t want to leave Boston the first time, but Kyrie Irving was in the process of leaving (in an interview before the start of the 2019-20 season, Al told me he would have looked at things differently if he’d known Kemba Walker was coming) and there was uncertainty with the Celtics.

It was widely expected that Horford would opt out of the last year on his contract and sign for longer term with Boston. But when Philadelphia stepped in with big money, the chance to play next to Joel Embiid and a seemingly great opportunity to compete for a title, he moved on. Horford didn’t love having to get beat up inside, and the idea that Embiid would draw the larger opponents was attractive.

Things obviously didn’t work out there, and after what was essentially a sabbatical in Oklahoma City, Horford returned to Boston and was a critical part of the Celts’ run to the Finals.

At 36, long-term career projections are foolish. But as he enters the last year of his current deal, you’d have to believe that, as long as the salary desires are reasonable, the Celtics would love to have him.


Bulls Need More to Contend & Miami is Running Out of Options

Any chance the Bulls make a move before the start of the season? — Ryan S., North Carolina

The Bulls never really got the chance to see what its best rotation could do for a consistent stretch in the playoffs, but looking at where they stand now versus the clubs expected to be at the top of the Eastern Conference, it’s hard to see them being a Finals contender if they don’t make a move. You’d have to think they recognize this and will try to do something.

Do the Heat have enough to reach the Finals as they are? If they can’t get Donovan Mitchell or Durant, what are their options? — Gina C, California

From what I keep hearing, Miami is trying hard to make a significant move, but it may be forced to get creative by involving one or more additional teams to execute the transaction(s) it wants.

The party line from the Heat is that they’re happy with the team they have, and it’s hard to argue too much with that. Miami did, after all, have the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, and it went to Game 7 of the conference finals before losing to Boston. And while the loss of P.J. Tucker (to Philadelphia as a free agent) will hurt, having Victor Oladipo ready to go from the start (he didn’t play until last March) could be a major boost.

If the Heat can’t get Durant or Mitchell, it’s hard to see another big-time player on their horizon. But with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and the others, a little more size could be enough to keep them in the discussion.

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