Horford agrees to deal with Celts
Al Horford ended the waiting game with a simple tweet: "Celtic Pride," it said, followed by 18 shamrocks.
The number might not have been a coincidence.
A franchise with 17 NBA championships may have gotten closer to contending for an 18th on Saturday, when Horford decided to accept a four-year, $113 million offer to join the Boston Celtics. Horford made the announcement on Twitter, and the terms of the detail were confirmed to The Associated Press by a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no deals can be finalized until at least July 7 under league rules.
Horford wasted no time in changing his Twitter bio, which now says he is "Boston Celtics star Forward/Center Al Horford." And the reactions came in swiftly as well, after one of the biggest prizes in this year's free-agent sweepstakes decided to leave Atlanta.
"Let's get it," Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas wrote.
The Celtics won 48 games last season, finishing in a four-way tie for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. They have a strong young core already, a highly regarded coach in Brad Stevens, and had the money to land a huge free agent.
Horford's announcement came on the same day that the Celtics met with Kevin Durant in New York, even bringing New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady along for that meeting to help sell the virtues of playing in New England.
No such fanfare was needed for Horford — just an average salary of about $28 million a year for the next four years.
Horford also met with the Washington Wizards as well as the Hawks, the team that drafted him and the team he's now leaving. Horford spent his first nine NBA seasons in Atlanta, but the Hawks agreed to terms with Dwight Howard and Kent Bazemore on big-money deals, leaving them little room for their centerpiece.
Atlanta could have made a trade or two to create enough room to keep him as well, but by Saturday Horford was already starting to look elsewhere.
The four-time All-Star averaged 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds last season. He gives the Celtics a formidable presence on both ends of the floor as they try to vault into the top tier of the East.
After Durant, Horford may have been the most impactful unrestricted free agent who was considered even somewhat available. LeBron James certainly would top that list, but he told media in Cleveland at the team's celebration parade that he planned to remain with the Cavaliers after leading them to the championship.
Horford has established himself as the ideal big man for the new era, a versatile player who can shoot from range, move the ball and provide top-notch defense. He has played center with Atlanta but also has the capability to slide to power forward in bigger lineups, giving his coaches multiple options to help them match up with opponents.
He struggled with injuries in 2011-12 and 2013-14, but bounced back to play 76 games two years ago and all 82 last season as the Hawks emerged as a top-tier team in the Eastern Conference. But as good as they have been in the regular season, they haven't quite been able to carry it over to the playoffs and so Hawks coach and team president Mike Budenholzer looked to shake up the roster a bit to get the team over the hump.
Budenholzer agreed to terms with Howard to give the Hawks more muscle and interior defense and gave Bazemore a whopping four-year, $70 million deal to remain in Atlanta. He also shipped Jeff Teague to Indiana to open the starting point guard job for Dennis Schroder. They stayed in the hunt with Horford to the very end, hoping to keep him to pair with Howard in what would have been an imposing frontcourt.
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