Horford Declines Option
Al Horford declined his $30.1 Million player option with the Boston Celtics Tuesday. Speculation about Horford signing an extension has been a topic all season, specifically considering Kyrie Irving’s uncertain status. With Irving all but gone, the team will now likely focus on resigning Horford to anchor their 2019-2020 roster. The five-time All-Star has provided a veteran presence since he arrived in Boston. Horford was also instrumental in the Celtics 2017-2018 playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Horford averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 68 games on shooting percentage splits of 53.5/36.0/82.1 in 2018-2019. The veteran center is also one of the best shooting big men in the NBA. Horford won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award in 2017-2018 and improved his defensive metrics in 2018-2019. He also decreased his turnovers per game by 0.3 turnover per game last season. In declining his player option, Horford becomes one of the top free agent centers available.
Crunching The Numbers
I’ve written about the Boston Celtics cap issues heading into the off-season. Even if the Celtics restructure Horford’s contract, combined with Gordon Hayward’s, those contracts will count for nearly 50% of the salary cap. It could be argued that Boston needs Horford and his restructured contract equally. The Celtics would have a hard time replacing Horford, and the salary cap and roster simply don’t work as presently constructed.
The debate surrounding the Boston Celtics has been trading assets for marquee free agents. Despite the asset a player like Anthony Davis provides, it has long been speculated Davis wouldn’t resign with Boston long term. Kyrie Irving provides the same asset, but his situation is well-documented and it’s clearly not worth it. The possibilities of signing a player like Kevin Durant has even been discussed. The Celtics seem to be taking the smart road, no pun intended, by staying away from Davis and Irving.
Return To Glory
The last time the Boston Celtics starting five was led by Horford, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, they came within a late-Game 7 push by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers of making the NBA Finals. After regressions from Tatum and Brown last season, a return to that 2017-2018 lineup could be the key. Unlike the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics were unwilling to include young stars in a trade package. Will that motivate Tatum? Will Brown’s inclusion in trade talks affect him like it did the Lakers young core?
The Boston Celtics need to resign Al Horford and free enough cap space to sign a veteran point guard. Once those items are in place the Celtics will have a similar roster to the one that nearly got them to the NBA Finals in 2017-2018. If Gordon Hayward returns to his All-Star status form, justifying his $32.7M cap hit, that Celtics team could win the Eastern Conference. A Boston starting five of Horford, Smart, Hayward, Tatum and Brown doesn’t just look good on paper, it’s a proven winning lineup. Some will see Horford declining his option as a sign he wants opportunities with other teams. Boston knows better. Al Horford declined his option to finish what he started.