Horford Looking Forward to ‘Fresh Start’ in Return to Boston

Al Horford is back in Boston, and he’s got some unfinished business to take care of with the Celtics.

Five years ago, the veteran center signed with Boston and embarked on a mission to help bring the city its 18th NBA championship. The C’s came close during his first two years, making it to the Eastern Conference Finals during consecutive postseasons. But in Year 3, the team took a step back and failed to emerge from the second round.

Following that 2018-19 season, multiple core players departed, including Horford, who moved on to Philadelphia and then on to Oklahoma City this past season.

But as the old saying goes, “Once a Celtic, always a Celtic,” and this particular Celtic never stopped bleeding green.

Throughout his brief stints in Philly and OKC, Horford’s heart remained in Boston, as he grew to “appreciate how special of a place” it was. He never could have imagined getting to experience that feeling of suiting up for the Celtics again. But on Friday, his desire was fulfilled, as he was dealt back to Boston along with center Moses Brown and a 2023 second-round draft pick in exchange for Kemba Walker, this year’s No. 16 overall pick and a future second-rounder.

After digesting the “surreal” reconnection over the past six days, the 35-year-old big man is now ready for a fresh start. Though he also hasn’t forgotten about the goal he set after he first joined the franchise in 2016.

“The culture, what we’re trying to build in Boston, and winning, getting that Banner 18, that’s something that really excited me, really motivated me. And it was something that we were working towards,” Horford said Thursday morning, reflecting back upon his first stint with the C’s. “Obviously I wasn’t able to get it done when I was with the group, but now that this time has passed and I get an opportunity again to do that, for me, it’s looking at what kind of purpose, what can I do, what can I do to accomplish that.”

The experience won’t be entirely new for Horford, as he’ll rejoin a handful of his former teammates, as well as some former coaches and front office personnel. Though, it will certainly feel new considering how much those players have grown during his absence.

The last time Horford donned a Celtics uniform was before Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum became All-Stars. His last game with Boston was two weeks before Marcus Smart earned his first of two selections to the All-Defensive First Team. At the time, Robert Williams was just a rookie, and now, he’s a rising star.

Those four core players have continued to develop over the past two years, and adding the leadership of Horford back into the mix should only help to expedite the process.

“I’m lucky enough to get a second shot to be with this group,” Horford said. “I feel like it was a good three years for me (from 2016-19), but now we get a fresh opportunity. It’s a huge challenge. I understand. But I actually embrace that, and I look forward to getting to work with the group of guys that we have.”

For Horford and many of his new teammates, that work has already begun.

“I do believe, for our team to be able to be the best that it can, we need to put in the work right now. It starts now,” said Horford. “I've been working for months already and continue to build in that direction. I was in the [Auerbach Center] yesterday and I already saw our young guys in there – Grant Williams, Tacko Fall, some of the other guys are in there putting in the work. They are going about it the right way and that's what we are going to do. We are going to work really hard and prepare and be excited for the challenge.”

Even at age 35, Horford feels ready for such a challenge. He put up productive numbers in OKC this past season (14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game), and claims that his body is in tip-top shape.

“Physically, I feel really good,” he said. “I'm in a really good place, and Oklahoma City, the medical staff did an unbelievable job with me over there keeping me healthy throughout the year and just continuing to stay in a positive trend. So I'm really excited where I'm at physically.”

Horford’s also excited to be where he’s at mentally, back in the place where he belongs.

“I really appreciate how special of a place that Boston is,” Horford said. “For me, being away from it, seeing the type of city that it is, what the team is all about, it's something that I really missed. Obviously, I feel like I learned a lot and sometimes, in my case, change was for the better. I'm just very grateful to have a second opportunity to be back here and to continue to work on what I started here.”

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