Brad Stevens saw the first domino fall for the Boston Celtics when he traded Juancho Hernangomez to the San Antonio Spurs as part of a three-team deal.
Now, it would seem that Stevens has his eyes set on a bigger deal, one that would potentially see beloved big man Al Horford head for new pastures.
“After spending the 16th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to acquire Al Horford in the offseason, the Boston Celtics are exploring trading him as they pursue another center, league sources told The Athletic,” Jared Weiss wrote in his recent piece for The Atheltic.
Horford, who is earning $28 million this season, is only partially guaranteed for the 2022-23 season, which means any team that waives him would only incur a $14.5 million cap hit. While potentially absorbing such a large amount of dead cap isn’t the most appealing of ideas, there will be some teams who see that trade as a possible way to reset their cap sheet in a shade over 18 months – and that holds value.
However, when watching Horford this season, it’s apparent that father time is catching up with him. No longer a versatile offensive weapon, Horford’s most noticeable impact has come on the defensive end, and that can be replaced for a fraction of the price.
“In his second stint in Boston, Horford has been one of the team’s top defenders, but he hasn’t been able to find a consistent offensive role. His 28.9 percent shooting from deep is his worst output since he started taking 3s in 2015, and the offense hasn’t revolved much around his pick-and-roll game this year,” Weiss wrote.
Horford Is Still a Good Playmaking Big
There’s no denying Horford’s offensive numbers have taken a significant dip this year; you can see it in the stat sheet and when watching the games. But one area of the 35-year-old’s game that hasn’t regressed is his playmaking.
Horford sits fourth on the Celtics roster for total assists made this season, behind only Marcus Smart, Dennis Schroder, and Jayson Tatum – all of whom have superior usage rates, meaning the ball is in their hands more often.
We’ve all seen the calls for Robert Williams to be given more playmaking duties in recent weeks. Still, there’s also a notion that Horford’s ability to initiate the offense would be a significant asset should he accept a bench role moving forward.
Suppose the Celtics cannot acquire a playmaking guard or wing before the February 10 trade deadline. In that case, Horford’s passing ability could be integral to the Celtics’ chances of a deep playoff run this season. As such, if any potential deal doesn’t see a playmaker coming to Boston in return, the offense could become even more disjointed than it already has been this season.
It’s worth noting that other teams will see the value in Horford’s passing skills, and that could be a factor in any trade discussions that take place over the coming weeks. Because, while the center position is evolving in the modern NBA, bigs who can facilitate an offense are still in short supply.
Celtics Could Look to Package Horford & Richardson
According to Weiss, the Celtics are also looking into deals that would involve packaging Horford and Josh Richardson together or moving them separately as they continue exploring avenues to improve their faltering roster. And of course, Dennis Schroder is also a trade candidate due to his expiring deal.
“As the Celtics look to retool and get below the luxury tax, they have been unsurprisingly open to moving Horford and Josh Richardson. Two core rotation players signed beyond this season.
Dennis Schröder has been repeatedly mentioned by league sources as available, despite Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens dancing around the subject in an interview with The Athletic’s Jay King,” Weiss wrote.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for Schroder and co. as things currently stand. Hopefully, as the deadline draws closer, teams will begin to emerge from the woodwork, looking for a short-term contract to take them “over the hump,” at which point Schroder could be an ideal candidate.
The downside to all these current trade discussions is that they focus on making moves around the margins, meaning any potential blockbuster now looks increasingly unlikely. As such, moves for the Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons of Sacramento Kings De’Aaron Fox now look doubtful, but anything can happen in the NBA, so we remain hopeful.
There’s still a shade over three weeks until the trade deadline, and it would be surprising if the Celtics didn’t make at least one more move – even if it’s just to ensure they fall beneath the luxury tax.