Storyline: Al Horford Free Agency

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4 months ago via ESPN

He might not be a superstar like some of the others in this class, but Al Horford’s entry into the free-agent market has sent numerous teams into a tizzy trying to get his valued services. Much like three years ago, when a number of teams rushed to offer him a max contract when he decided to leave the Atlanta Hawks, Horford is in such massive demand across the league that he’s very likely to get the four-year, $100 million-plus deal he’s seeking by opting out of his deal in Boston. In addition to teams such as the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans, who instantly emerged as possible landing spots, league sources say there are a few surprise bidders who are trying to land the veteran big man. These include the Sacramento Kings and Philadelphia 76ers.
4 months ago via ESPN

The Kings are interested in adding a center this offseason, and there’s space for them to do it even with re-signing Harrison Barnes. It would require them to move on from Willie Cauley-Stein, who wants that anyway, as his agent has asked the Kings to let him go. They’d potentially have the room to make an aggressive offer to Horford, but they have a number of the top centers on their list, sources said. In addition to Horford, the Kings could chase Brook Lopez and Nikola Vucevic. Lopez played for coach Luke Walton with the Lakers.

The Celts still have to find out what Al Horford wants to do. The veteran can opt out of the approximately $29 million he has coming next year, and, according to a league source, Horford would like to stay. The source added that he’d take a more team-friendly number for next season if he can get two more years tacked on.

Few people have been talking about his future in Boston because most people assumed Horford would either opt in to the $30 million or opt out and sign a longer-term deal with Boston. Not many people expected a third option of possibly leaving, maybe not even Horford himself. “It’s something that I haven’t even stopped to think about,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed being here in Boston. Just have to wait and see what we’re going to do as a team. And it’s steps that the management is going to do moving forward, and continue to get better.”

As for the future, Horford can also opt out of his contract to become a free agent next summer, but at the moment, he sounds as committed as his point guard. “If they want me here, I’m very happy,” Horford says. Looking around the brand-new Celtics practice facility at his teammates, Horford points out that it wasn’t like this when he first decided to come to Boston. He remembered the recruiting pitch, sitting in front of Stevens, Ainge and owner Wyc Grousbeck. They told him about “all these assets.” There were picks, there was cap space. “Maybe we sign a superstar here or there,” they told him. “We’re able to make a trade. We’re able to really make a team that’s great.”

“He’s a perfect fit,” Crowder said. “That’s what we were telling him. He had Washington and some other teams looking at him, but we beat them four times this year. You don’t want to go there. We play through our bigs, and a lot of teams don’t play through their bigs — they post them up and give them the ball. Our bigs, like he did in Atlanta, he makes the play. We were explaining our basketball terminology to him, and how ours will fit right in with (his) game. It’s going to mesh. Most guys have to blend in and fit in, but it’s going to be automatically just there. The style he plays, that’s what we reiterated to him: The way we play fits you so well. We need you. You need us. Let’s make it happen.”

The Celts did get Al Horford to agree to a free agent deal, a move the now-former Atlanta center delivered via Twitter after Ainge, Brad Stevens, ownership, a group of players and Tom Brady had met with Durant in the Hamptons earlier on Saturday. But Durant may have been ahead of the C’s on that news. “I got the impression that they knew something before we did,” said Ainge. “I know that they had some conversation. They were very familiar with what Horford was choosing between. It seemed to me in the presentation like Al and KD had been discussing their plans together.”

On Saturday evening, a deep Celtics contingent that even included Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wrapped up a recruiting meeting in New York with the prize of this free agent class, Kevin Durant. The Celtics were pleased with the gathering, and as they boarded a private jet to fly back to Boston they were also thinking about forward Al Horford, their other prime target. But as the jet prepared to take off, a phone rang and delivered the news the Celtics, their fans, and their city have been waiting for: Al Horford had accepted Boston’s four-year, $113 million maximum-salary contract offer. The pilot was asked to pull to the side of the runway, a source said, and when the call ended, there was a celebration.

Horford’s father, Tito, said in a telephone interview Saturday night that his son had narrowed his choices down to the Hawks and the Celtics. As the family discussed the options, the conversation often returned to the uncommon passion of Boston’s fans. In Atlanta, support at home games was sometimes tepid, despite the fact that the Hawks had gone 108-56 over the last two years. “There wasn’t as much motivation for him when he saw all the empty seats when they were winning,” Tito Horford said. “He said to me, ‘Dad, when we were playing Boston, they were down 15 points and they were cheering their team like they were winning the game. They’re so into the game.’ This is special for us, especially for him.”
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