Report: Al Horford would like to stay with Celtics, open to team-friendly deal

Report: Al Horford would like to stay with Celtics, open to team-friendly deal

While most will focus on Kyrie Irving's impending free agency and his uncertain future with the Celtics, Al Horford's player option remains a crucial aspect of Boston's offseason. 

Horford has the choice to opt out of a $30.1 million salary next season and become an unrestricted free agent, but according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, he may want to work something out with the Celtics to stay. 

The Celts still have to find out what Al Horford wants to do. The veteran can opt out of the approximately $29 million he has coming next year, and, according to a league source, Horford would like to stay. The source added that he’d take a more team-friendly number for next season if he can get two more years tacked on.

Bulpett added that the Celtics have not yet engaged Horford in contract talks. 

Horford struggled with knee soreness throughout the regular season, but as usual, he was able to play at his highest level in the postseason. The Celtics had a disappointing end to their season with a 4-1 series loss to Milwaukee, but Horford should not be a casualty if Danny Ainge decides to re-shuffle the roster.

Horford will be 33 years old going into next season, so opting for more years on a contract than a larger salary could be a smart move for the five-time All-Star. 

Agreeing to a smaller salary figure would also help out the Celtics' ownership group with the luxury tax, especially if Kyrie Irving re-signs on a max-contract and if Ainge aims to acquire Anthony Davis in a trade. 

The deadline for player option decisions is June 29, while NBA free agency is set to being on July 1. 

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Careful what you wish for with Kyrie Irving, Celtics fans

Careful what you wish for with Kyrie Irving, Celtics fans

When Kyrie Irving trudged off the court before the final buzzer of Boston’s Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that all but sealed the Celtics' postseason demise, a chorus of fans near the tunnel vented their frustrations by suggesting Irving could just leave (even if maybe the loudest fan, and the outlier of the group, pleaded for the opposite.

Now that the Celtics have bowed to the Bucks, capping one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, the dispirited masses have only grown louder in their suggestion that it would be best if Irving did not return to Boston next season.

Here’s what those folks are missing while blinded by their anger at the 2018-19 Celtics: Nothing would be more catastrophic for the future of the Celtics than Irving signing with another team.

We understand the frustrations. Irving’s missteps trying to learn how to be a leader this season caused avoidable strife in the locker room and, combined with the heavy burden of expectations, left this team perpetually frustrated by its shortcomings. Irving compounded matters by brooding midseason about the speculation about his future. And he could have erased those memories by keying a Boston postseason run — just like he had boldly declared himself ready to do as early as February — but he instead endured one of the worst shooting slumps of his career while Boston lost four in a row and got unceremoniously dumped by the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

While Brad Stevens blamed himself for a bad coaching job this season, all while Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown offered public apologies for Boston’s underwhelming campaign, Irving never quite took accountability for the Celtics’ failures. The “We Miss Isaiah” crowd dropped from out of the clouds with their pitchforks while others used Boston’s playoff exit as an opportunity to revisit the season-old “Are the Celtics better without Kyrie?” argument.

It’s completely understandable but also misguided and there’s a heavy recency bias. The possibility of losing an All-NBA talent with a championship pedigree should be terrifying for Celtics fans, no matter how infuriating his play was against the Bucks. For all his warts, Irving is still one of the NBA’s elite players at a high-demand position and, maybe most importantly, the Celtics would have almost no immediate means of replacing his talents without completely rebooting the roster.

There'd be no cap space to sign a big-ticket replacement (sorry, Kemba Walker and Kevin Durant are not walking through that door). There wouldn’t be a superstar presence to entice more talent (if Anthony Davis’ camp didn’t want him here before, they certainly won’t now). In the NBA, it’s OK to move on from talent, but unforgivable not to get something in return for that departure.

Call it the Kyrie Conundrum. While we understand all of the reasons why you might want to move on from Irving, it’d be the worst thing that could happen for the Celtics this summer.

*****

It is ironic that, back in September, when Irving first teased us with the suggestion that he planned to stay in Boston long term, the exact phrasing he used was, “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here.” A straw poll of Celtics fans almost certainly would suggest that, at this moment, he is persona non grata.

Of course, if you told these same folks that the best option to replace Irving next season would be overpaying Terry Rozier to stick around, they might change their tune.

Even if Irving declines his $21.3 million player option and alerts the Celtics that he does not plan to re-sign, Boston would remain over the salary cap. This isn’t a situation where, if Irving walks, the Celtics can turn around and use his salary to pursue a big-name free agent such as Walker. Trying to generate any sort of meaningful salary-cap space would require both Irving and Al Horford to both opt out of their deals, and for the team renounce their rights (meaning neither could be re-signed, nor would the team be able to sign-and-trade them for anything).

Bidding farewell to two All-Stars for only the chance to pursue another on the open market seems like bad business.

What about a sign-and-trade, you’re wondering? Good in theory, difficult in execution. Remember that, in a sign-and-trade under the new CBA, the Celtics couldn’t offer Irving the lucrative fifth season that distinguishes their offer. What’s more, sign-and-trades only benefits the receiving team if they didn’t have the space to absorb the contract. It’s likely that any team that Irving would desire to play for would have the available cap room to sign him outright (New York, Brooklyn, Los Angeles) and agreeing to a sign-and-trade would only weaken the roster of the team set to acquire him.

All of which is why the Celtics will be ready to give Irving his five years and $190 million, regardless of whether you’ll have him back or not (there is the chance, too, he might simply want a shorter-term deal in hopes of a bigger payday down the road). Talent is king in the NBA and every superstar has warts. Ultimately, teams do their best to mask those deficiencies and winning goes a long way towards hiding them.

Irving’s return likely means changes to other areas of the roster because this blend simply didn’t work last season. Maybe his return encourages the Celtics to be even more aggressive in the pursuit of Davis. 

It will also challenge all involved to morph and grow. Stevens has thrived his entire career with scrappy underdogs but struggled to put the pieces to this uber-talented puzzle together this year. He must learn how to motivate and discipline elite talent, even if those players don’t always want their deficiencies spotlighted.

You can absolutely make the case that, if Irving signs elsewhere, the Celtics might be just fine by bringing back the same core from last season. Or maybe Boston could use its surplus of draft picks to seek a replacement. It’s simply hard to see how they land a player of Irving’s caliber that way. It would seemingly lower their ceiling.

To be fair, the Celtics came nowhere near that ceiling this season. And the team’s failures only accentuated much of what bothered fans most about Irving. It’d be easier for Green Teamers to accept him if he owned his shortcomings, suggested he’s eager to atone and showed a Marcus Smart-like desire to represent what the Celtics stand for.

That might not happen. And maybe you’ll grumble if he ultimately elects to re-sign in Boston. But a second chance might just be the Celtics' best chance to make you forget about all the frustrations of the past season.

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NBA offseason lingo and how it relates to the Celtics

NBA offseason lingo and how it relates to the Celtics

BOSTON -- There’s no telling how different the Celtics will look at the start of the 2019-20 season, but make no mistake about it...

Change is coming. 

You’ll see it on the bench for sure with the departure of Micah Shrewsberry, who returns to the college basketball world as an assistant at Purdue. 

And there’s a good chance you will see it with a roster that, at a minimum, will undergo some level of tweaking. 

But within that process, there will be terms thrown around describing the moving pieces that are sure to be part of the Celtics' lexicon as they try and regroup after what was a disappointing season. 

Let's take a look at some of the common verbiage you'll hear this offseason and how that relates to the Celtics in what’s sure to be a summer of change.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT
Simply put, this is the status of a player who can sign with any team they want to, with no restrictions, once their contract expires. For the Celtics, Marcus Morris falls into this category on July 1. Kyrie Irving, who will opt out of the final year of his contract, will become an unrestricted free agent, who, as we’ve seen, read and heard about all season, will be the target of a number of teams. Al Horford and Aron Baynes have player options that will allow them to test the unrestricted free agent waters as well, although it’s unclear at this point if one or both will go that route. 

QUALIFYING OFFER
This is the amount that teams can offer a player selected in the first round of their respective draft class, who has just completed his fourth NBA season, to ensure that they become a restricted free agent. It’s essentially a one-year deal for a bump in pay that’s at least 30 percent more than they made the previous season, all depending on where the player was drafted. In the case of Terry Rozier, as the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft, his qualifying offer from Boston will be worth 40.5 percent more than his salary this past season which was $3.05 million. If the Celtics decided to not make him a qualifying offer, Rozier then becomes an unrestricted free agent. 

RESTRICTED FREE AGENT
A player can sign an offer sheet to play for another team (provided they have enough salary-cap space to absorb the deal), but his most recent team will get an opportunity to match the offer. This is common among first-round picks who do not sign extensions prior to the start of their fourth season. In addition to Rozier, Boston’s other restricted free agents include Daniel Theis (restricted Early Bird), Jonathan Gibson (restricted non-Bird) and Brad Wanamaker (restricted non-Bird).

"BIRD" RIGHTS
Teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap to re-sign their own free agents at an amount that’s equal to the maximum salary allowed relative to that player. It is named after Celtics great Larry Bird because the Celtics were the first team allowed to utilize this rule which they did in retaining the services of Bird. Players must spend three or more consecutive seasons with the same team without being waived or without joining another team via free agency. The Celtics have the Bird rights to Kyrie Irving, who they acquired via trade from Cleveland. Because he was acquired by trade, his Bird rights also came with him to Boston. The “Early Bird” exception applies to players who have been with the same team for two consecutive seasons. They can be re-signed up to 175 percent of their salary or the average NBA salary, whichever is greater. Daniel Theis, a player Boston hopes to re-sign, falls under the Early Bird category.  

NON-"BIRD" RIGHTS
Players who don’t meet the criteria for the Bird exception or early Bird exception, fall under the non-Bird exception crew. Teams can sign these players to up to 120 percent of their salary from the previous season, or 120 percent of the league’s minimum salary, whichever is the higher amount. Aron Baynes would fall under this category. He can opt-out of his contract and be a free agent, but all indications are that he will play out the final year of the two-year, $10.6 million contract he signed with Boston last summer. 

SALARY CAP
It is the amount of money teams are allowed to pay their players. The NBA has a “soft cap” which allows for exceptions so that teams can exceed the cap which for 2019-20 will be around $109 million. Like most teams, the Celtics have utilized the exceptions at their disposal to add talent and by doing so, exceed the salary cap with this upcoming season being no different. 

LUXURY-TAX THRESHOLD
The whole point of being able to exceed the salary cap is to add talent, even if it means increasing the amount of salary spent. Still, the NBA doesn’t allow teams to have just a blank checkbook, either. There is a luxury-tax threshold that kicks in for teams once they exceed a certain amount in salary. For the 2019-20 season, that figure will be $132 million. Teams that exceed that amount will pay tax amount for every dollar spent above the luxury-tax threshold, depending on how far over the luxury tax they go, and whether they are a “repeat offender” which involves an even higher tax rate. The Celtics are expected to be among the teams paying a luxury tax for the just-concluded season, although their tax bill - just under $4 million according to Spotrac.com - is relatively modest compared to there fellow luxury tax-paying franchises. 

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