Big Money, Kyrie Irving & ‘Perfect Situation’: Al Horford’s Celtics Full Circle

Al Horford, Celtics

Getty Al Horford, Celtics

The full circle that Al Horford has taken in recent years was on full display the day after he went for 23 points and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes of Boston‘s win over Cleveland on Wednesday. Looking at the numbers, an Eastern Conference executive was laughing.

“He’s what, 36?” he said. “And he can still come up big. Hell, he’s big even when you don’t see numbers to go with it. And what’s funny is that we’ll probably have this same conversation in two years.

“He’s just a guy that you know will be there for you. He’ll stand out even more when the team is playing the right way, because that’s how HE plays. You never see the ball stick in his hands. He’s just a guy that gets it.”

Big Money Helped Decision to Leave Celtics

Though his move from the Celtics to Philadelphia as a free agent in 2019 might not have been his best decision from a playing standpoint, four years for $109 million looks pretty damn intelligent. He thought he’d be closer to competing for a championship with Joel Embiid and the 76ers, and that last year with Kyrie Irving and the Celtics may have given him a headache. When Irving left for the Nets, Horford took stock of the C’s.

Sitting in the Sixers’ facility in New Jersey after a preseason practice, I asked if he would have stayed had Irving done the same.

“I’m not sure that has anything to do with it for me,” Horford said. “I just think that if Kyrie would have stayed, I don’t know if it would have worked. There would have had to be some major changes as far as players, because it was just clear that the group that we had just wasn’t going to be able to coexist.”

He wasn’t entirely sure what to make of what was left when he accepted the Philly offer. But he had an interesting response when asked what he would have done if he knew the Celts would be acquiring Kemba Walker: “I don’t want to get caught up in the past, but, yeah, that would have been totally different.”

Injuries prevented Walker from succeeding as hoped, and he was eventually part of the June ’21 trade that brought Horford from Oklahoma City back to Boston.

Extension Will Keep Horford Around

Three months ago, Al planted his shamrock deeper by signing a two-year extension for $19.5 million, a total about $7 million less than he’s making this season.

It’s clear Horford prioritized location, but, according to another league exec, there are also some market realities in play.

“We’d love to have him, but the cap can get in the way,” the source told Heavy Sports. “I think he basically took the veteran mid-level and locked in there on a team he’s happy with.

“The thing is, the teams with room are most likely young and rebuilding teams, and would they really be in the market to spend a lot of money on a guy who’s going to be 37 next season? So where is the room? Where does he get more? Al can definitely still play, but he’s really only worth major money to a team that thinks he’s the missing piece that gets them over the top. And those kind of teams don’t have that kind of money available for a free agent.

“Look at Boston. This is a perfect situation — for both sides. Al’s a really important part of what they do. But if they didn’t already have him — if he was a free agent last summer — they wouldn’t have been able to spend big money on him. But it’s clear he wanted to stay there now, and this deal is good for him, too. He didn’t break the bank, but after all that he’s made in his career, that probably wasn’t that important to him. He gets good money to be where he really wants to be. There’s a value in that. And by signing for two more years now, it also covers him in the event of an injury that either stops him from playing or makes him a lot less effective.

“But I think it’s pretty clear that all he wants to do now is win, and Boston gives him a great chance. It’s also someplace where he’s valued, where he’s still really important to what they do — and that’s not always something you find for a guy that age. He’s starting and important now, and he gets even more important to them when the playoffs come.”


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