Horford Returns to Boston, as Celtics Deal Walker to OKC

Brad Stevens wasted no time in making his first move as Celtics President of Basketball Operations, as he made a blockbuster trade Friday morning, acquiring Al Horford, Moses Brown, and a 2023 second-round draft pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Kemba Walker, Boston’s 2021 first-round pick and its 2025 second-round pick.

It was certainly a difficult decision to make, considering the leadership and scoring bursts that Walker brought to the team over the last two seasons. But ultimately, it should be a move that benefits the Celtics on multiple levels.

“Kemba is a true professional and a great teammate and player,” Stevens said in a team press release. “I want to thank him for his tremendous impact, and the positive contribution he’s made to both the Celtics and the city of Boston.”

Horford should have no problem filling Walker’s presence as a locker room leader, as he is an established veteran who already has the respect and friendship of many of Boston’s players, having played for the Celtics from 2016 to 2019. His teammates always praised his calming demeanor and father-like presence in the locker room, and that is exactly what this young Celtics team needs at this moment.

Horford also fills a hole for the Celtics in his ability to serve as a stretch-5 and versatile defender, which the team has lacked since his departure two summers ago. He is a multi-tool big man who can score around the basket, from the mid-range and from beyond the 3-point arc. He can handle the ball, run the offense and make plays for others. And on the defensive end, he can rebound, block shots and defend multiple positions.

One other intangible that Horford brings to the table is his ability to teach young bigs, as many of his past teammates have noted his mentorship being a critical feature in their development. Rob Williams is one of the fortunate players who learned from Horford during his rookie season, so their reunion should be beneficial once again for Williams as he continues to blossom.

Horford is also experienced in the postseason, having made the playoffs in each of his first 13 campaigns. The 35-year-old finally broke that streak this past season with Oklahoma City, although he only played in 28 games for the Thunder.

Horford has career averages of 13.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game, along with shooting clips of 51.7 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from 3-point range, and 75.5 percent from the free-throw line. Those numbers were mostly in line with his production for the Celtics, with the exception of higher assist numbers with Boston.

During his three seasons in Boston, he put up 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game, along with shooting clips of 49.8 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from 3-point range, and 80.0 percent from the free-throw line. He also had one All-Star appearance as a Celtic in 2018, which marked the fifth selection of his career.

“Al played a critical role both on and off the court during his time in Boston, and we’re excited to welcome he and his family back to the Celtics,” said Stevens. “His diverse skill set combined with his veteran experience and proven leadership make for a great addition.”

The Celtics added even more depth to their frontcourt in acquiring Brown, who could provide a nice bonus at the center spot. The second-year big man showed immense promise this past season, emerging as an athletic, elite rebounder and a solid interior scorer. The 21-year-old averaged 8.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game for OKC in 2020-21 while playing 21.4 minutes per game. That would average out to 14.5 points and 15.0 rebounds per 36 minutes.

The name Moses Brown may also ring a bell for Celtics fans since he torched Boston on March 27 with the best game of his career in the form of a 21-point, 23-rebound performance. The 7-foot-2, 245-pound center turned into a double-double machine toward the end of the season, which he capped off with a 24-point, 18-rebound, seven-block, three-assist effort against the LA Clippers.

Although Brown and Horford both play the same position, they bring entirely different skill sets to the table that should add variety and depth to Boston’s frontcourt.

On the flip side, losing Walker means that the team will have to fill a significant void in the backcourt. However, the C’s have plenty of ball handlers who are capable of stepping up next season, such as Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard, along with two All-Star, playmaking wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

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