You’ll remember the agent who told us, “Boston may have some clouds ahead,” that New York might be a legit draw for Kyrie Irving in free agency, how Jaylen Brown is extension-eligible next summer, too, and then Jayson Tatum the year after that, when Gordon Hayward can opt out.
Payroll and luxury taxes will pile up. This team won’t be easy to keep together beyond 2019.
Lost in that shuffle is Al Horford, who owns a $30.1 million player option for the 2019-20 season, which means he could leave in free agency next summer. Not that he would, because that cash may not be on the table from another team next summer. But he could. So, the Celtics have to be considering Horford’s future in Boston beyond his current contract. What might that look like?
Horford has been invaluable to a team that’s reached consecutive Eastern Conference finals — the man who makes it work. It’s hard enough to find a big who stretches the floor, anchors an elite defense or runs an offense from the high post, let alone a guy who does all those things.
Horford turned 32 in June, but his game should age well. He played the best basketball of his career last season. The concern is that, when his NBA season count climbs above a dozen and his minutes odometer runs over 30,000, he loses the step that allows him to keep up with Ben Simmons and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the perimeter — the thing that made him invaluable. But you figure he’s got three more high-end seasons in him, maybe four. Maybe even more.
Unless you plan on swinging a deal for Anthony Davis or developing Robert Williams III into your center of the future, you want that guy on the roster for this window — one in which the Celtics will be expected to compete for championships every year they keep this core together.
Like Irving, Horford is eligible for an extension. Like Irving, he can walk next summer, closing the window considerably. And like Irving, he will not sign that extension now. Or, rather, it’s “highly unlikely” he even considers it this summer, a source familiar with the matter told Parquet Post.
Their situations are entirely different, of course. Irving, 26, can earn $80 million more next year than the $107 million extension he can sign this summer. It doesn’t make any financial sense for him to come to terms now. It might for Horford, who has already made $130 million in an 11-year career and is likely seeking his last big payday once his current deal expires in 2019 or 2020.
Horford signed his rookie scale extension on deadline day in 2010, telling ESPN then, “I wanted to get it done for security and just to focus on the team this year.” Five years later, when he was eligible to sign another extension, Horford told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I’m going to wait until the season is over. I’m not going to let that linger and be a distraction. The focus is to be on the Hawks, on our team and getting better.” He left for Boston when the season was over.
The extension that now probably makes the most sense from a C’s standpoint goes something like this: Horford picks up next year’s $30.1 million option (any extension automatically starts at that number), and then signs something like a two-year, $40 million deal beyond that. This is similar in total salary to the extension LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the Spurs last summer.
That he wouldn’t entertain this or anything like it now is at least mildly interesting. Maybe he has plans for next summer, when he could opt out of the $30.1 million and sign for a lower starting salary on a deal that guarantees him more in the long run. Maybe he’s planning to pick up that option and negotiate an extension next summer, when both sides should have a better feel for the market in 2020 and beyond. Or maybe Horford wants to keep his options open for 2019 and 2020, when the salary cap is expected to rise from $101 million to $109 million and $116 million, respectively, and a whole lot of teams will have money to offer him. We don’t know.
What we do know is that the Celtics aren’t expected to offer Horford an extension this summer, either, a source told Parquet Post. And there are myriad reasons why that may be the case, too. Maybe they have eyes on Horford opting out next summer and into a team-friendly longer-term extension. Maybe they’re not ready to commit fully to a center entering his mid-30s who missed almost two entire seasons due to injury in his mid-20s and has had multiple concussions the past two seasons. Or maybe they want him to pick up his player option in order to have a massive expiring deal to use next summer in pursuit of another highly paid superstar.
Whatever the reason, just as they’re hopeful they can retain Irving next summer, the C’s should be confident they can keep Horford beyond his current contract, especially since he saw what they were building and joined them over a host of other suitors, including the Rockets, Thunder and Wizards. We can assume he wants to see that process through, but assumptions and confidence mean nothing without a signature, and the ink on his deal will stay dry another year.