If you’ve been tracking Al Horford rumors (and I have, kind of), you’ve seen his name linked with the Celtics, the Heat, the Rockets, maybe the Spurs, possibly the Thunder. Any of those would make sense, all of those being good teams and him being a good player. But this is the silly season concerning NBA free-agents-to-be — they can’t officially negotiate with any team until July 1 — and the silliest part of the Horford rumors is this:
He’s probably not going anywhere.
That’s assuming he doesn’t really, really, really want to leave the Atlanta Hawks, and everything he has said has been an affirmation of his desire to stay. That’s also assuming he’d rather take more money than less: The Hawks can offer him a five-year contract at maximum money; no other team can offer more than four years. That’s assuming the Hawks don’t do something to tick him off, which isn’t to suggest that Horford is prickly — he’s not — but his negotiations could require a bit of finesse.
The Hawks would surely prefer not to offer max money for max years unless there’s no alternative. (And there might not be, what with so many other clubs eager to lure him away.) Paul Millsap can opt out of his contract after next season, and that would leave them with another All-Star who’ll be looking for big money — the salary cap is set to go wayyyy up next summer — but who’s on the high side of 30. (Horford turns 30 on Friday. Happy birthday!)
If Horford really, really, really wants to chase a title, those organizations mentioned above would appear better bets. Miami has Pat Riley. Boston has Danny Ainge. Houston has Daryl Morey, although his reputation took a hit this year. San Antonio has Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford. Oklahoma City has Sam Presti. But Horford seems to believe he can win something of consequence here. (Me, I’m not so sure.) But he wouldn’t seem to be at that last-dance stage yet. He could always do what LeBron James keeps doing and what Millsap is apt to do, which is taking less money for fewer years and then opting out to reassess.
As mentioned previously, getting Horford to re-up won’t necessarily bring the Hawks any closer to a championship or even the NBA finals. It might actually nudge them further away. If they use their money to keep him, would they have enough to buy an even more decorated free agent? And there aren’t many more decorated than him in this class. There’s Kevin Durant and … well, does DeMar DeRozan count? (Nobody expects presumptive opters-out LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki to up sticks.)
The bottom line is that Horford means too much to the Hawks for them to let him walk, and he likes it here enough that he’s not inclined to get an urge for going. I wouldn’t call it an absolute lock that he’s a Hawk next season. Strange things can happen in free agency. (Remember Josh Childress to Olympiakos?) I would, however, suggest that it’s a very snug knot.
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