Monday, October 3, 2022

Al Horford’s ex-boss opens up on Big Trade, Role With Celtics

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The 35-year-old big guy went out and averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds in 29.1 minutes during the regular season. He then pumped in the playoffs to 12.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in 35.4 minutes.

Aside from the huge impact the man had on his team’s defense and overall offensive flow, there were a number of NBA folks who were surprised by Al Horford’s performance for the Celtics.

Sam Presti wasn’t one of those people.

The Oklahoma City general manager essentially had Horford on the shelf for the final two months of the 2020-21 season as the Thunder kickstarted its rebuild project. It was necessary to look at players who had a chance to be there if the club hoped to play for something significant again.

That Presti put Horford in a Celtic situation befitting a player who needed a championship shot in the latter stages of his career was a hoped-for bonus. (And with Rob Williams needing another knee surgery before this season, the Celts need Al even more.)

“Well I couldn’t be happier for him – both professionally and personally,” Presti told Heavy Sports. “He’s one of the true professionals I’ve met in the time I’ve been doing this.”

Pro enough to start and play a key role in the Celts’ run to the finals. Pro enough to increase his execution from 46.7% shooting (33.6% on 3-pointers) to 52.3% and 48.0% in the regular season and playoffs, respectively. Pro enough to hold the center and help Williams reach more of his potential.

“I’m not surprised he was able to make such a contribution,” Presti said of Horford. “I think it was a great cause and credit to Brad (Stevens, Celtic Head of Basketball Ops) and his staff for realizing how he can help them in the way he has. I’m happy for him and I think he will continue to be a big part of this team in the future.

“I didn’t watch all the games but when I did the things he did were similar to what he did for our team. Obviously, Boston is at a very different stage in its development and timeline, and well past the stage we are at. And I think it’s fitting that he’s in such an environment at this part of his career.

“Yes, I was happy for him – but I wasn’t totally shocked that he was able to do it. And I just can’t stress enough that Brad was really clear on how this fit was going to work for her. It made a lot of sense.”

That fit was perhaps even better than the Celtics had hoped. Horford allowed Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to each move up a position and gain a size advantage while also allowing Williams to flourish. Now the club must hope Al can help them get through the Time Lord’s rehab period with whoever fills William’s role in the rotation.

In any case, the Celts will be keeping a close eye on Horford’s playing time as they try to prepare him for the postseason.

It’s a very different situation than Al welcomed in Oklahoma City. Horford started for the Thunder after being acquired by Philadelphia ahead of the delayed 2020 season, but the bigger win in that deal was likely the first-round pick OKC received from the Sixers. Presti got another one from the Celtics to accept Kemba Walker for Horford and Moses Brown, who subsequently shipped the Cs for Josh Richardson.

Al wasn’t destined for a long stay in Oklahoma.

“We were coming off a seven-game playoff loss and recently moved Chris Paul to Phoenix,” Presti said. “We started repositioning and expanding our team.

“I think (Horford) has been great for all the players we’ve had. Many of them have lost their teeth in the NBA. But we also had a first-year coach and Al was exceptional with Mark (Daigneault). I’m sure that Ime (Udoka, the Celtics first-year head coach) has also benefited from the fact that he has such a stable presence on and off the court. But he’s a player I’m really proud of, who has walked our halls wearing our uniform, albeit for a very short time. We came close to getting him in a trade a few times when we were in our prime with some of our better teams. But better late than never, I guess.”

And unlike when The Thunder aimed for it in the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook era, the Horford fit was gone.

“I think he’s helped us in the short time he’s been with us. At the same time, we also realized that at the stage he was in, he wanted to play for a competitive team,” Presti said.

“He came into our organization, put both feet up, was a true professional, contributed on and off the pitch. I was confident that we would find something for him next year. I’m very grateful for the trust he and Jason (Glushon) placed in us by following the plan we designed and making it work for him. But he’s a total professional and a great player and I’m just happy for him.”

“I think (Horford) has been great for all the players we’ve had. Many of them have lost their teeth in the NBA. But we also had a first-year coach and Al was exceptional with Mark (Daigneault). I’m sure that Ime (Udoka, the Celtics first-year head coach) has also benefited from the fact that he has such a stable presence on and off the court. But he’s a player I’m really proud of, who has walked our halls wearing our uniform, albeit for a very short time. We came close to getting him in a trade a few times when we were in our prime with some of our better teams. But better late than never, I guess.”

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