By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
WALTHAM (CBS) — Al Horford may have spent the first nine years of his career with the Atlanta Hawks, but it didn’t take long for the Boston Celtics and TD Garden to make an impression on him during his lengthy career.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Horford explained Monday at Celtics media day. “The first time I played in the Garden my rookie year I couldn’t stop looking at the banners up top. Maybe some guys feel differently, but I couldn’t stop looking at them. It’s powerful, it leaves an impression on you.”
That meaningful impression paid off in July when one of the top prizes on the free agent market elected to sign a four-year pact with the Celtics over returning to his former team.
While sporting his green Celtic jersey and No. 42 for the first time, Horford elaborated on the path and promise that led him to his new team.
“I was very impressed with how hard the guys played and how good the team could be under Coach [Brad] Stevens and just what I saw from the group,” Horford said. “It just really intrigued me and when the free agency process came around at the beginning, I would say I was very comfortable with Atlanta, but as the time kept going on and I met with the Celtics it just became real to me.
“Looking at my career at this point, I’m going into my 10th year and want to be able to be a part of something special and win a championship, and with the type of guys that we have here, we have that possibility and that’s something I wanted to be a part of.”
Horford is one piece to that championship puzzle, although the team is still not at that level quite yet. Las Vegas currently projects them to have the second highest win total in the Eastern Conference, but there’s work to be done with the team’s roster construction if they want to compete with the likes of the Cavs and make a push for an NBA Finals bid.
Danny Ainge still has a few key trade pieces remaining in draft picks and young players to help the Celtics reach that status, but the veteran Horford is already a believer in the team’s current core.
“We all know the situation of the flexibility and all the future draft picks and all that stuff,” Horford admitted. “That was there. But for me, just the guys that we have here, the group that’s here is what I felt good about with Coach Stevens, playing under his system.”
Stevens and Ainge could not contain their excitement when talking about adding the three-time All-Star onto one of the deepest rosters in the league Monday as well. For a team that has struggled to find consistency on the frontline throughout Stevens’ tenure, they now have a player they know they can count on.
“He’s a good fit for how we play on offense,” Stevens noted. “He’s a good fit for how we play on defense. He’s a professional. He has a routine. He works hard at his craft. And he’s a guy that guys can follow by example.”
“I love his experience, his character and his versatility,” Ainge added. “Very talented player, but as much as anything, he’s just been very consistent over his career, shooting the ball, playing multiple positions, and I think he’s a guy that fits in with our system where we have the big guys handling the ball a lot.”
While the expectations have risen for Boston with Horford in pace, as training camp officially kicks off on Tuesday, the 30-year-old knows that everything will have to be earned by the new-look Celtics in an improved Eastern Conference.
“The playoffs are not just given to you. It’s something you have to earn,” Horford explained. “You have to work your way into [the playoffs]. We can’t think that far ahead. Our biggest thing is to handle our business now. I’m looking forward to getting to that first two-a-day, starting to work with the guys and just start building that chemistry. That’s what I’m more concerned about.”
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.