By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When Al Horford turned down a $30.1 million payday from the Celtics for next season, the belief was he and the team would work out a new deal that benefited both sides. That is no longer the case.
Horford, one of the few Celtics players who acted like a professional during their disappointing 2018-19 season, will be playing elsewhere next season. The Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett was first to report Tuesday night that the veteran big man is expected to sign a four-year contract elsewhere. Horford and the Celtics were discussing a three-year pact, but they were too far off in their numbers according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and Horford will now find a new home when free agency opens on June 30.
Marc Stein of The New York Times is reporting that Horford knows there’s a four-year deal worth $100 million waiting for him from someone, which would be too rich of a pact for the suddenly rebuilding Celtics. Though Horford has been the veteran glue guy Boston has needed over the last three seasons, and they could have certainly used him back next season, committing $100 million over four years for a 33-year-old big just isn’t in the cards anymore.
Losing Horford hurts on many levels. While most fans are happy that Kyrie Irving is leaving town, the same cannot be said for Horford. He was the consummate professional since signing a four-year max contract with Boston in 2016 and did a little bit of everything on the floor during his time in green, helping the team reach back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals. It’s never a good look when a player leaves your franchise, even if it’s a veteran looking to win a ring. The Celtics won’t be winning in the next few years, so the divorce does make sense. But that doesn’t mean it hurts any less. It has made an offseason of uncertainty all the more uncertain, and will probably lead to at least a soft rebuild around young stars-in-the-make Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
But on the bright side, Horford’s departure does give Boston some opportunity to build around those youngsters this offseason. Maybe the Celtics can work out a sign-and-trade with Horford’s new team and grab something in return. If Danny Ainge renounces the rights to the rest of Boston’s free agents, including Terry Rozier (restricted) and Marcus Morris, the Celtics would have about $27 million in cap space to work with this summer. If they trade some of the three first-round picks they have on Thursday, or draft-and-stash with a few of those picks, that number could go up to $32 million.
That would allow the Celtics to go after a big name free agent to compete now (if anyone is willing to sign on to the Boston youth movement) or they could trade for expiring contracts in order to snag some future assets and gear up for next offseason. And we all know how much Ainge loves future assets. If there is a Gerald Wallace out there this summer, and Ainge can use their contract to his eventual benefit, he’s going to find them. That doesn’t bode well for having a successful 2019-20 season, but could lead to brighter days down the road.
It doesn’t feel great to see a player like Horford leave the Celtics, but hopefully he goes out and gets a nice payday and goes on to win the ring that he deserves. It hurts in Boston, but it opens the door to a lot more possibilities for the Celtics this offeason and beyond.