NBA Free Agency
For the first time in his 9 year career in the NBA Al Horford will be testing the free agency waters and could be departing form the Atlanta Hawks. Horford has had great success in Atlanta. He just finished a 5 year 60 million dollar contract he signed in 2010 and at 30 years old, Horford has given the Hawks four NBA All Star caliber seasons and never lacked efficiency. Horford put up 15.3 points 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game last year on over 50% shooting from the field. He is a talented free throw shooter (74% in his career) and can step out and hit the three at a respectable clip. Horford is a dynamic center. He is a gifted and willing passer and can stretch the floor on offense fitting the evolving play style of the league perfectly. The Hawks have had success. In Horford’s nine years with Atlanta, they have made the playoffs every year, but have never advanced past the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks can offer Al Horford the most money and an extra year because they are in control of his bird rights, but the aging center may look for a destination that is more likely to yield a Championship as he exits his prime. Teams looking to acquire Horford are certainly infatuated with his versatility. Horford can play traditional center minutes but can also step back and play power forward with his ability to knock down 2’s and 3’s.
There are 4 teams most likely on the radar for Al Horford and all can offer varying fits for the aging All-Star; the Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and Atlanta Hawks.
Oklahoma City Thunder – There is a large looming issue if the Thunder hope to pursue Al Horford and that is simply that they cannot afford to sign him and retain Kevin Durant for the amount of money Horford will command. However if Durant decides to leave in free agency, signing Al Horford would make a lot of sense for both sides. Billy Donavon coached Horford at Florida to two consecutive NCAA Championships so the relationship between player and coach is already solidly in place. The Thunder provide immediate playoff opportunities for Horford and with the trade of Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic, the Thunder are in need of Horford’s versatile offensive game and the three point shooting form the corners that Ibaka thrived on. Horford also would not have to be the best player on the Thunder. Russel Westbrook would carry the bulk of the limelight and Steven Adams and Enes Kanter are capable big men and mixing and matching the three in rotation would give Oklahoma City a deep and scary frontcourt. Horford’s ability to play multiple positions makes him adaptable to pair next to Adams at the power forward slot allowing his offense to stretch the floor and not lacking any rim protection on defense and he can fill in the role of center with Enes Kanter moving to the 4 in their rotation. The Thunder’s first priority will be resigning Kevin Durant, but if he chooses to leave, they will need to be aggressive in free agency and Al Horford would be a fantastic consolation prize.
Boston Celtics – The Boston Celtics are in desperate need of front court help. They have a log jam at the guard positions but their most talented low post threat at the moment is Jared Sullinger. The Celtics have exceeded expectations carrying their average roster in the playoffs, and general manager Danny Ainge knows he is one or two free agent signings away from being a premier threat in the East. Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers will likely be Ainge’s top target, but by all indications from the Cavs Love is not interested in leaving and Horford may just be the better fit for the Celtics anyway. Horford could play either the four of the five with the Celtics at a very high level. While he’s not going to lead a team to an NBA Finals in most situations as the teams’ best player, if there is any situation where it could work besides what he already has in Atlanta, Boston seems like the best fit for Horford in the back-end of his prime. Brad Stevens has proven to be a gifted coach in this league and Horford’s versatility on offense would pair well with the Celtics. His ability to knock down shots opens the lanes for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to slash to the basket and Horford would be a huge upgrade defensively from the Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zelller.
Detroit Pistons – Despite the Pistons not making the playoffs in over six years, there is good reasons for why Detroit would be an interesting fit for Al Horford. Horford grew up in Michigan so for any player heading toward the end of his career the opportunity to play in your hometown is enticing. Stan Van Gundy, Pistons head coach, has recently parted ways with Josh Smith and Greg Monroe with the hopes of bringing in a power forward who can give space to the offense for Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. Horford has showcased a strong three-point shot to his already impressive offensive arsenal. He has the dynamic lateral quickness and the high basketball intelligence to play alongside a traditional NBA center in the All-Star Drummond. Van Gundy has also showed a willingness to pay players in order to bring them on board. He did it with Rashard Lewis with the Magic and he paid point guard Reggie Jackson handsomely with an extension after a trade with the Thunder. Horford is the exact player Van Gundy is pursuing. A dynamic stretch 4 with high basketball IQ could put the pistons into playoff contention right away in the East and their mix of talented youth and core veterans could make for a fun lineup that could give fits to many teams moving forward.
Atlanta Hawks – Despite his lack of championship pedigree, there is no denying that Horford has had great success in Atlanta. Playing in the playoffs every year is no small feat and the Hawks seem to not be interested in a rebuild after dealing All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. The Hawks have a lot of hope in point guard Dennis Schroeder taking the reins of the offense and still have plenty of talent in Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver playing alongside him. The Atlanta front office has stability and the organization is in a good place with the backing of a new, committed ownership group led by majority owner Antony Ressler. Atlanta has a great head coach in place in Mike Budenholzer, a roster that is keen on player development, and a team that annually has an opportunity to make a statement in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The front office will have to manage some other contracts like Kent Bazemore who could draw interest from teams this year as well, but resigning Horford must be priority for the Hawks this summer. Horford can make the most money staying in Atlanta but the question will come down to how much faith he has in the front office, coaching staff, and roster to help pursue his best interests on the court.