The Atlanta Hawks are up 2-0 on the Boston Celtics in their Eastern Conference first round series, and part of the reason the Hawks appear to be in control of the series is the outstanding play of soon-to-be unrestricted free agent Al Horford.
Horford has picked up his play through the first two playoff games after having an outstanding regular season. The 29-year-old power forward/center is averaging 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks a contest against the Celtics while shooting 50 percent from the field — Horford leads or is tied for the team lead in all four categories. The 6-foot-10, 245-pounder had a stellar Game 2 performance registering 17 points, five rebounds, and five blocked shots in the Hawks 89-72 victory Tuesday night.
Never too late to revisit. Check out our top plays from Game 2:https://t.co/rbzuLs9LOB— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) April 21, 2016
Horford averaged 15.2 points along with 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 50.5 percent from the field, as well as 34.4 percent from beyond the arc during the regular season. He scored in double-figures in 73 of the 82 games he appeared in and produced 17 double-doubles.
Horford will be one of the most sought after free agents this summer as he possesses elite skills and is a two-way player. The most impressive thing about the evolution of Horford’s game is his playmaking and floor-stretching capabilities. He made a career-best 88 triples this season and came within three assists of tying his career mark of 266 set during the 2010-11 season.
Horford, the No. 6 available free agent in 2016 according to HoopsHype, is expected to garner a lot of attention this offseason from a plethora of teams. He will likely receive a max-contract despite not being a star player — this does not mean he is not a great player but the star label is limited to a select few (Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook, etc…). The nine-year veteran has made the All-Star team four times and was selected to the All-NBA Third Team in 2011. Horford also does brings with him some injury concerns; he missed a significant amount of time in 2011-12 and 2013-14.
According to Hoop Rumors, Atlanta is intent on keeping Horford and will offer him a maximum contract, which would mean his salary for next year would be around $26 million. For his part, Horford seems comfortable in Atlanta.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s Chris Vivlamore recently talked about Horford’s pending free agency on the Celtics Podcast.
“The Hawks are prepared to offer him the max, he’s comfortable in this system. I would think it’s 90-percent that he’s staying, but that means there’s 10-percent that he wouldn’t.”
Atlanta will have between $36 and 40 million in cap space to spend in the offseason, per Basketball Insiders, as the NBA salary cap is now projected to be $92 million in 2016-17. The problem is that several other teams will have a ton of money to spend, and Atlanta reportedly also plans to re-sign Kent Bazemore, so they may have ultimately choose between the two.
Bazemore has grown tremendously this year, producing career-highs in every statistical category. The 26-year old averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 75 games. He is currently averaging 14.0 points, along with 8.5 rebounds in the playoffs.
The decision for the Hawks, who reached the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season, may ultimately come down to how they fare during the postseason this year. Atlanta has won just five playoff series during the nine-year span, though the Hawks did reach the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago.
If Boston comes back in this series or Atlanta loses in the next round to Toronto or Indiana, the Hawks may ultimately decide to blow their roster up and start the rebuilding process like they were thinking about around the trade deadline. Kirk Hinrich and Kris Humphries will also be unrestricted free agents this summer.
One thing is for sure is that Horford will have plenty of choices as the Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, and Detroit Pistons are expected to be among the teams interested.
Boston does not have a great player on its roster or great low-post scorer — Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk — the Celtics two best bigs — averaged 10.3 and 10.0 points, respectively. The C’s only have $33.9 million committed for next year though that could increase if they decide to fully guarantee Amir Johnson ($12.0 million) and Jonas Jerebko’s ($5 million) contracts for next year. Boston reportedly targeted Horford at the trade deadline.
Brooklyn recently hired current Hawks’ assistant Kenny Atkinson to be their head coach and he is said to have a fantastic relationship with Horford.
Atkinson has deep ties to Al Horford. In addition to working with him as assistant, Atkinson is head coach of Horford's D.R. national team.— NetsDaily.com (@NetsDaily) April 17, 2016
Brooklyn has many needs and will have the money to sign one player to a max contract. However, front court is probably the Nets least area of concern as they have Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young.
Miami and Orlando are considered to be draws for Horford since he went to college at the University of Florida. The Magic have a ton of salary cap space and plenty of young talented players, but they may not be ready to make a jump into the playoffs next season. The Heat are an interesting case because they will have enough cap space, but Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng are unrestricted free agents. The caveat maybe Chris Bosh’s (blood clot) health.
Horford also has ties to Detroit, as well, as he grew up in Michigan while his father, Tito Horford, played for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Pistons could use a player like Horford to play alongside Andre Drummond, but they would likely have to finagle the salary cap somehow, as they currently have $65 million committed for next year.
Oklahoma City may be a long shot as the Thunder won’t be able to afford both Kevin Durant and Horford, plus the Thunder plays in the Western Conference. Horford did play for Billy Donovan while he was at Florida.
Obviously other teams will likely get involved in the Horford sweepstakes, so stay tuned.
[Photo by John Bazemore/Associated Press]