Acquiring Lonzo Ball Likely Hinges on Celtics Big Man, Says Insider 

Celtics chances of acquring Lonzo Ball may hinge on Al Horford

Getty Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans passes the ball against the Washington Wizards.

With Kemba Walker officially out of the picture, filling the point guard vacancy in Boston appears to be the new priority No. 1 for the Celtics and exec Brad Stevens. The team could of course hand over the reigns to veteran Marcus Smart. While maybe not your typical point guard, Smart has been shown to fit in nicely playing alongside superstars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

With that said, Smart is entering a contract year and the Cs could look to move off of him rather than commit to the Oklahoma State product long-term. There are other potential options out there to fill the point guard void. Ben Simmons’ time looks all but over in Philadelphia, while Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon continues to be floated in trade talks. Yet, for the most part, Lonzo Ball appears to be the apple of the eye for many Celtics fans and team analysts.

For instance, Stadium’s Jeff Goodman recently urged Boston to “go after” the former No. 2 overall pick while appearing on the WEEI’s Greg Hill Show. There have been numerous takes like this dating back to March’s trade deadline. However, as Mass Live’s Brian Robb recently pointed out, such a move may be easier said than done. And if the Celtics were to pull off such a move, it would almost certainly come at the expense of a recently re-acquired big-man.

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Landing Ball May Mean Moving Al Horford

… and even then, it’s likely a stretch. Robb can’t deny that Ball’s high-end skillset as a distributor would fit in swiftly alongside Boston’s current array of scorers. Not to mention, at just 23 years old, he’d give the team yet another building block under the age of 25. With that said, the Celtics insider has his doubts on whether the team can actually stomach Ball’s contract under their current payroll.

Unfortunately, a sign-and-trade does not look feasible for him this offseason even after the Kemba Walker deal. He’s a restricted free agent so the Pelicans have matching rights on his next contract (and would likely demand good compensation to let him sign with another team barring a huge offer sheet). However, the bigger problem for Boston is their current payroll for next season. It’s already close to the apron (aka: the hard cap) even without any free agent signings. Receiving a player in a sign-and-trade forces a team to stay under the hard salary cap for the entire season and that wouldn’t be feasible for Boston given their current payroll commitments if they want to stay competitive next year in the East.

If the Celtics have any hope of bringing Ball to Beantown, it may ultimately entail unloading Horford in yet another trade — something that seems unlikely considering the way the team has behaved since acquiring him. Here’s what Robb had to say:

The only way a Ball sign-and-trade becomes viable is if the Celtics manage to move a lot of salary (Horford or multiple other players) elsewhere without taking much back to open up some breathing room under a potential hard cap. The odds of that happening seem quite remote since the team is acting like Horford is in their plans for next season.

Examining Horford’s Contract & Standing on Roster

For further clarification on how Horford’s deal breaks down, the 35-year-old is on the books for $27 million this coming season, all of which is guaranteed. In 2022-23, he’s set to make $26.5 million, although according to Yahoo Sports’ Keith Smith, only $14.5 million is guaranteed (plus a $5 million bump if his team wins the 2022 NBA Finals). The full salary would become guaranteed on January 10, 2023.

Horford, a five-time All-Star, proved during his lone season in Oklahoma City that he’s still capable of producing at a high level, even at his advanced age. Averaging his highest point output (14.2) since 2015, chances are the Celtics could eventually find suitors to offload his contract if they so choose. Although, by the sound of it, we shouldn’t expect Horford to be going elsewhere anytime soon.

“Al played a critical role both on and off the court during his time in Boston, and we’re excited to welcome he and his family back to the Celtics,” Stevens said of Horford following the Kemba trade. “His diverse skill set combined with his veteran experience and proven leadership make for a great addition.”

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