Entering this NBA season, one of the difficult questions the Celtics knew they’d have to address in the summer of 2023 was the contract status of forward Al Horford, who is slated to be a free agent. The Celtics gave Horford a full guarantee on the $26.5 million on his contract this season, but how much to pay him beyond this year was a trickier question.
Horford is 36, after all, and while he is a key contributor in terms of keeping the Celtics on a winning track (as well as a valuable veteran voice in the locker room), his numbers are not gaudy—10.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists. There was concern that Horford could bolt this summer as he had done in 2019, when he surprised the Celtics by taking a four-year, $104 million from Philadelphia after the team was all but certain he would return to Boston.
But now we know. According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Horford will be back with the Celtics, agreeing to a two-year extension worth $20 million that the sides have been discussing for weeks. And that could pave the way for an eventual re-signing of another Celtics big man, forward Grant Williams.
Grant Williams, Celtics Did Not Agree to Extension
Williams did not come to an agreement with the Celtics in the offseason, when he was eligible for an extension on his rookie deal—the two sides, in fact, did not come close, as the Celtics kept their offer in the $11-12 million range.
Part of the reason behind the tepid offer to Williams was uncertainty about Horford. But now that Horford is settled, and at a deal that is fairly friendly to the Celtics, the picture on Williams becomes clearer.
“Obviously they know they are going to be a tax team next year and probably for the next few years,” one Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports. “The goal for them when it comes to that (the luxury tax) is to keep it where it is. So, you look at Horford and Williams, combined, and figure that is what they want to spend on those two guys next year, not more than what they are getting this year. Now, there is more of an idea what they’re dealing with. Grant Williams could be one of the winners with this.”
Currently, with Horford’s contract and Williams making $4.3 million on his rookie deal, the Celtics are at $30.8 million combined for the pair. That means the Celtics could pay Williams a deal that starts at about $20 million per year and still keep the same financial impact that the Horford-Williams dup has this season.
The Celtics are about $25 million over the tax threshold (almost $150 million), and the threshold is set to rise to $162 million next year. That means the Celtics can come in with a payroll of $187 million and still be $25 million over the threshold.
Horford Gave Celtics ‘Hometown Discount’
The consensus around the league is that Horford, even at his advanced age, left money on the table to remain with the Celtics.
“I think he could have got more,” the executive said. “This is definitely a hometown discount, it’s like Dirk (Nowitzki) or Tim Duncan (both signed team-friendly contracts late in their careers). But, look, the teams with money next year are mostly young teams. So maybe Horford was looking at the landscape and saw who had cap space and wound up saying, ‘I do not want to go to Houston, man.’ It is a win for both sides, really, but if he wanted to chase money, he could have gotten more.”
As far as Williams, executives have told Heavy Sports in recent weeks that a deal starting in the $18-20 million range, while obviously very high for a player averaging 8.8 points and 4.6 rebounds this season, could be enough to scare off the Celtics from matching an offer for Williams, a restricted free agent.
And with Williams having just turned 24 this week, those young and rebuilding teams—Houston, Detroit, Orlando—that will have cap space could be more inclined to dive into an overpay. The relatively modest Horford contract protects them against that.
“I don’t know that they would go into $20 million a year for Grant Williams,” the executive said. “I don’t know that anyone else would, either. But they have some cushion. If it winds up being $15 million a year for Grant, they can match that and still be in a position where they’re not adding to that (tax) burden.”