With Al Horford Gone, What’s Next for the Celtics Down Low?
The Boston Celtics offseason began in utter turmoil. Kyrie Irving’s departure may have been messy, but it wasn’t all that surprising. Perhaps that’s why president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was so quick to ink All-Star Kemba Walker to a max deal. Rather quickly, the Celtics pivoted from one elite point guard to another.
But when Al Horford unexpectedly signed a four-year, $109 million deal with the rival Philadelphia 76ers, Boston found itself in a much trickier position. The challenge of replacing Horford’s on-court production would pale in comparison to trying to recreate all of his intangibles.
Technically the right move
Despite everything, Ainge was wise to let Horford walk. With twelve years of experience under his belt, the 33-year old is obviously not getting any younger. Horford likely wanted a longer and more lucrative contract than the Celtics were willing to offer. Given his recent struggles with knee tendinitis, it’s understandable.
Where Boston goes next with its roster is unclear. Having flexibility and freedom will be essential for the team. Horford said earlier this season he wants to play until he’s 40, but he’ll no doubt expect to be paid like the star that he is. Paying him $25 million at age 36 is a win-now sort of gamble the Celtics weren’t in a position to make.
Enes Kanter is no Al Horford
A Sea of Blue
On the surface, the newly signed Enes Kanter can help Boston move on from Horford almost immediately. He’s a much more adept offensive weapon. Scoring comes easily to Kanter.
His rebounding numbers are also much better than Big Al. This is an area in which the Celtics have consistently struggled during the past few seasons. It’s simply not one of Horford’s strong suits.
Unfortunately, however, where Horford does excel is much, much more difficult to replace. He averaged 4.6 assists per game during his time in Boston. Adept passing from a big man is a critical consideration in the new NBA.
More importantly, Horford is a tremendous defender. He anchored the Celtics system this past season, setting the tone with his production and leadership. Horford hasn’t posted a Defensive Box Plus Minus lower than 2.0 since the 2009-10 season; Kanter has not once been a net positive in that category.
At the end of the day, it’s the stability and calm Horford brought to the Celtics that will be most sorely missed. He’s the sort of player that does all of the little things, does them well, and helps his teammates do the same.
Kanter should not and will not be expected to replace Horford’s leadership. In theory, that responsibility will fall to the likes of Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, or perhaps Kemba Walker. In reality, however, there is an Al Horford-sized hole in the Celtics locker room that will be impossible to fill.
The young guys
Horford’s departure does give Boston head coach Brad Stevens a chance to hold a true mini-camp to decide his eventual front court. Joining Kanter in the mix down low is Daniel Theis, and quite possibly rookie Tacko Fall.
Above all else, though, this is an opportunity for the TimeLord himself, Robert Williams.
Last season Boston fans were delighted by Williams during his rookie campaign. Not just because of his endearing antics, but his on the court production. Check this out:
Boston is taking a step back from contention, at least for the moment. That means Stevens can return to what he does best: maximizing talent. Few players stand to benefit quite as much as the TimeLord.