addByline("Taylor C. Snow","Celtics.com","taylorcsnow"); addPhoto("https://i.cdn.turner.com/drp/nba/celtics/sites/default/files/160708horford2.jpg", "Four-time All-Star Al Horford", "Brian Babineau/NBAE", "horford");
WALTHAM, Mass. – When free agent Al Horford stepped into his initial meeting with the Boston Celtics last Friday, he knew it would take a lot for the organization to pry him away from Atlanta – the city where he had spent his entire nine-year NBA career up to that point.
As soon as the Celtics’ front office made its pitch, however, the vision became clear to the four-time All-Star. He was meant to be a Boston Celtic.
Coach Brad Stevens helped Horford visualize how he would fit seamlessly into his system; players Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk chimed in to speak of Boston’s culture and why they have fallen in love with the organization; and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, along with managing partners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca educated Horford on the franchise’s rich tradition and the unparalleled pride that comes with putting on a green and white Celtics uniform.
“The pitch was very powerful and that kind of sealed the deal with me,” Horford reflected. “To get a chance to talk to Danny, to coach, and really see what my role could be – that made my decision easier.”
Essentially, he was sold. He called Ainge the next day and was put on speakerphone as he announced to the front office his intention to join the Celtics on their quest for Banner 18.
Six days later, he was officially welcomed to the city with an introductory press conference, during which he detailed the decision-making process that led him to choosing Boston.
“It was a very difficult decision for me,” admitted Horford, who boasts career averages of 14.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. “I had a great situation in Atlanta. I have a lot of respect for their organization, the fans there, but just looking here and what’s ahead; the vision that I see here … I feel comfortable, I feel confident in the potential of what can be, and I’m very encouraged by the group of players that are here.”
Ainge and the front office heavily pursued the big man because they knew he would fit perfectly among the current cast of players and enhance the team’s hard-working mentality.
“The great thing about Al is that he plays the way that great Celtics of the past played,” said Ainge, a former Celtic All-Star. “He plays with a passion that’s contagious to his teammates. He’s a player that can fit with all sorts of different types of players; he can play outside and he can play inside, on both ends of the court.
“He brings energy and passion and I think that he is a player that fans will fall in love with, his teammates will fall in love with, and our coach will fall in love with him as well.”
It appears the latter has already been achieved, as Stevens gave him the highest of praise Friday morning.
“The best thing that I can say about a basketball player is a person that constantly enhances his teammates on the floor,” said Stevens, “and the number one thing that his career has been defined by is winning.”
For more than a decade, Horford’s teams have experienced a steady flow of success. After winning back-to-back NCAA championships at the University of Florida in 2006 and 2007, he was drafted No. 3 overall in the 2007 Draft by the Atlanta Hawks, who hoped he could halt their eight-year playoff drought.
Sure enough, he guided Atlanta to postseason berths during all nine of his campaigns with the Hawks, including this past season when he helped eliminate Boston in a six-game first-round playoff series.
Stevens expects the presence of a man with such consistent success and extensive postseason experience to go a long way with his youthful squad.
“For us to have an opportunity here with a person who has achieved all that he’s achieved,” said Stevens,” who has not only the ability to help your team on the court with everything that he does well, but also in the ability to lead what is still a fairly young team in the way that [he] prepares, the way that [he] carries [himself] and everything else. I don’t think there is a better example out there for our players.”
Horford is also a perfect example of the type of player that should fit perfectly within Stevens’ system.
The Celtics play through their bigs, and Horford is one of the top two-way players at his position in the league. He’s versatile – able to play the 4 and the 5 – has an excellent midrange game, is a solid 3-point shooter, has great passing skills for a big man, and particularly thrives on the defensive end.
“Right now, it definitely makes us better than we were last year,” said Ainge. “We felt like we were rightfully the third seed in the Eastern Conference [last season], and the addition of Al makes us a better team for sure.”
Ainge added that there is still work to be done in the pursuit of Boston’s next banner, but Horford believes his decision to sign with Boston will ultimately lead to other top signings in the future.
“It’s a great organization; there’s a lot of history here,” said Horford. “I feel like everyone around the league respects it, we acknowledge it – that’s a big part of the reason why I chose to come here. And I feel like in years to come this will open up the doors for many other big free agents.
“You have to consider this is a special place, and I think that if people are open to it, they’ll see how special this place is.”
Horford, just one day into his C’s career, is already embracing Celtic Pride. Now all that’s left is for him to add his mark on the parquet floor and establish his legacy in Boston.