News that Al Horford is opting out of the final year of his current deal shouldn't come as a major surprise.
It has seemed like the most probable route for the 33-year-old big man, who is essentially sacrificing a monster payday for the security of a longer-term deal, and aiding Boston’s cap/tax situation in the process. After battling knee soreness for much of last season, there’s value in Horford cashing in long term as he starts to exit the prime of his career.
Still, with Boston’s grandest plans fizzling at the start of the offseason, it would have been understandable if Horford opted into the big payday and pushed the question about his future to the summer of 2020.
Even with Boston’s failed pursuit of Anthony Davis, coupled with the uncertainty surrounding the return of Kyrie Irving, league sources have maintained that Horford would have a strong interest in re-signing with Boston. Opting out affords him some additional flexibility to watch how the NBA Draft and the start of free agency plays out before he has to make a firm decision about his future.
Even if Horford is on board with a youth movement and trusts in the 2018 playoff core, including Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and maybe Terry Rozier, he can be further convinced return to Boston if the Celtics make the sort of small-splash moves that confirm they still view themselves as contenders, even with a roster devoid of more established stars. A lower cap number for Horford could give the Celtics a tiny bit of additional flexibility if Irving is to walk away.
The Celtics do not generate any immediate cap space with Horford’s decision to opt out. The team maintains a hefty cap hold but own his rights and can re-sign him above the salary cap up to a max deal. Most speculation seem to peg his next deal as something in the neighborhood of three years, $66 million, which limits the money Horford might be losing in opting out.
Despite the knee issues that contributed to a slow start, Horford was an absolute monster for the Celtics in the 2019 playoffs. He’s an integral part of Boston’s potential in a conference that includes Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Celtics already got Aron Baynes to opt in, meaning Horford would have a beefy big man alongside to defray some of the wear and tear against pure centers.
Horford could be particularly important this season if the Celtics throw the keys to the young core. Horford can provide veteran leadership and guidance without needing the typical superstar spotlight. His playmaking abilities could be key to keeping an offense afloat if Irving is to depart.
Horford has maintained that, at this stage of his career, competing for a title is his focus and the Celtics must show him they remain committed to that pursuit. It’d have been easier to do that if they landed Davis and maintained Irving. But Horford knows the potential of the team — especially with a healthy Gordon Hayward — after the team’s storybook 2018 playoff run.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.