Let’s get this out of the way: whatever contract Al Horford signs next month is going to be a bad contract.
Al Horford is 30. Al Horford has missed the majority of two of the last five seasons. Al Horford wasn’t particularly athletic to begin with. Whichever team signs Al Horford is doing so for the 10th and 11th years of his career. The 12th and 13th could get ugly.
That eliminates a lot of teams from the bidding. Young teams that aren’t ready to peak aren’t going to sign Horford because it would be wasteful. Teams that want to spend their money in next year’s superior free agent class wouldn’t because Horford just doesn’t have the upside Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin do. Teams that manage their money conservatively aren’t going to want to lock $30 million onto their 2018 and 2019 caps.
Boston happens to fall into all three of those groups. Their situation is just so unique that they can afford to eschew common sense in favor of immediate gains.
Boston has their three best players, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley, locked into contracts that are far below market value. Combined, they’ll make less than $21 million next season. Their most valuable long-term assets are draft picks, and all of those will be on rookie contracts. There is not a single player on the roster guaranteed eight figures in any present or future season.
The Celtics need to find a superstar, and to do so they need to make themselves more attractive to superstars on the free agent market. Al Horford does that, but the Celtics have so much money to spend that they can afford to give him a max contract without sacrificing any future flexibility. With Horford on the roster Boston likely makes the Eastern Conference Finals next season. If that’s the case, they should feel comfortable in their ability to sign someone next summer. They don’t need to care about the bad half of Horford’s deal because by the time it comes up they’ll ideally have found their superstar already. Horford’s dead money won’t affect their ability to do so, and even if he does, their draft assets give them a suitable backup plan.
Think of Horford as the cost of doing business. Yes, his contract will be bad, but he’ll be good immediately and the money they’re spending on him down the line might as well be considered part of the salary of whichever superstar they end up signing. All in all, Horford becomes a good investment for them specifically because of that.
And on his end, what’s a better option than Boston? San Antonio isn’t getting involved. Houston is a clown’s graveyard. Miami is too old to win anything going forward. Minnesota is too young to do so while he’s still relevant. Boston is just right. Brad Stevens would put him in the best possible position to succeed, and the Celtics really could use a center.
It’s the logical match of a player who wants to win right now but get paid later and a team that wants to win right now and doesn’t mind paying for it later.
Likely Contract: Four Years, Max