Tuesday 20 February 2018 / 11:02 AM


As the first two days of the NBA free agency circus reached a whirlwind, the move that raised eyebrows in the NBA the most before Kevin Durant’s massive announcement was the decision made by Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford to move to Boston.

The move was one thought to be out of left field, with the Hawks seen as the strong favorites to retain his services. That all changed once the Hawks agreed to terms with Dwight Howard, and the Hawks looked to be out of the market for Horford. But the Hawks silenced those rumors, making a big offer to Horford and putting Paul Millsap on the market to make space.

Ultimately, the Hawks were beaten out by the Celtics, who had monster money to throw around and offered Horford a fresh start around a roster that was in desperate need of some All-Star help.

But does this move push Boston into the NBA’s elite?  Does it even push them into the elites of the Eastern Conference?

Horford is a great player, a perennial All-Star who was a wonderful presence on the defensive and offensive side of the ball in Atlanta. Al was an integral part of a Hawks defense that was one of the best in the NBA, and anchored a lineup that could grind you to death, a la San Antonio.

So on the defensive side, Horford fits what Boston is doing. Even better, Horford is a zone guy, as he played it in Atlanta. And for a defense that was already one of the best in the NBA in Boston, the addition of Horford added a legitimate post presence to really incite some fear on some of the bigger teams in the league.

On offense, Horford also is a nice change of pace. Before, Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk were the go-to weapons down low, but neither can play the game that Horford can. He’s an Al Jefferson type with a solid midrange game and amazing touch inside. But the best quality Horford brings the Celtics’ offense is his spectacular passing ability. The Celtics prided themselves on moving the ball around on offense, but had done little in the way of shooting, with limited open shots for a roster already devoid of shooting. With Horford taking up space in the paint, more outlet passes are surely on the horizon for a Celtics team in desperate need of some perimeter improvement.

While they may not have added it in better perimeter players, better shots will certainly ease the pain a little bit. But more than anything else, does this Boston signing turn the page? The Celtics haven’t made a big free agent signing in a long time. Heck, remember the super team? Of Allen, Garnett, and Pierce? Built by trades. The Celtics, despite their history and heritage, aren’t exactly the hotbed for recruiting star players they might like to be.

The last two off seasons have seen claims of the upcoming rise of the Celtics, with big trades looming or their names being linked with literally every big-name free agent. This offseason proved no different, with the Celtics courting Kevin Durant, Nic Batum, Dwight Howard, and entertaining trades for Kevin Love. But for the most part, the Celtics have struck out.

With the Horford signing, however, the Celtics finally have something to hang their hat on. No longer is this a team in rebuild, with nice pieces just waiting for a star to go around. Now, the Celtics are a team with two very good players in Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, and a supporting cast as good as anywhere. While they still may very well be another player away from real contention, Horford gives them validity and something serious to offer as support for a marquee guy like Kevin Durant.

Horford has provided the Celtics with something serious to show they are ready. While a great player on the court, Al may well prove to be a much bigger force off of it: as a symbol of the Celtics upside and readiness to win. And with the NBA offseason a proven commodity for crazy signings, all it takes is that one to tip the scales back in your favor.

[YouTube – NBA]

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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