By Mike Stearman, PSO Director of Basketball Operations
Jul 02, 2019

As reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Al Horford has agreed to sign a four-year, $109 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. After talks stalled with the Boston Celtics over salary disputes, Horford was courted by their Atlantic Division rival in perhaps the most under-the-radar signing of free agency. After losing Jimmy Butler to Miami, Philadelphia is yet again retooling on the fly. Let’s take a closer look as to how this deal affects the Eastern Conference hierarchy.  

  • Al Horford has made the playoffs every year of his career
  • Philadelphia took the eventual champion Toronto Raptors to seven games in the ECSF
  • The 76ers were fourth in the league in RPG (47.8) and fifth at opponents FG% at the rim (62.1)
  • Horford has shot 37% from three the past four seasons
  • The 76ers were fourth in APG last season (26.9)
  • Horford was third (4.2) among centers last year in assists 
  • Joel Embiid played in only 64 games (78%) last regular season
  • The 76ers have the fifth-best odds to win the title
  • Head Coach Brett Brown has two years left on his contract
  • Ben Simmons has begun contract extension talks with the 76ers
  • Horford played power forward with Florida in college where he won two championships alongside Joakim Noah

When Jimmy Butler and J.J. Reddick walked this free agency, the 76ers were tasked with retooling their team back into a contender on the fly. As the rest of the league drifts towards small-ball, the 76ers are pairing Al Horford with Joel Embiid, forming an ultra-big starting five with the potential to be a rebounding and defensive powerhouse. 

As a willing passer, Horford fits right in with Brett Browns’ movement-based, high-assist rate offense. Last season, the 76ers ranked highly in elbow touches and post-ups, both spots where Horford excels as a passer. Horford posted an eFG% of 57% on pick and pop jumpers last season; a Ben Simmons-Horford tandem is a brand new toy Brown can play around with. When Embiid needs some time for “load management” in preparation for the playoffs, Horford can step in offensively and keep the 76ers frontcourt afloat. 

Jimmy Butler’s junkyard dog impression will be missed on defense, but the 76ers couldn’t have asked for a better consolation prize. As recently as 2018, Horford was an All-Defensive player. He’s got the rare ability to switch on to smaller guards and can lock down the other team’s center as well. Simmons and Embiid are already both stifling two-way players and now that Horford is thrown in the mix, there’s potential for a dominant defensive season.

$109 million is a steep price for a 33-year-old center with over 900 games on the odometer, but this signing is beyond the on-court production. Al Horford is the consummate pro, and the hope is his habits and professionalism will rub off on the 76ers’ impressionable young core of Embiid and Simmons. It’s a fascinating experiment on and off the court, but Philly sees Horford as the edge to get over the hump in a wide-open (Kingless) Eastern Conference. 

Outlook: Premier contender in the East fueled by the best starting lineup in the NBA

Financially and basketball-wise, Philadelphia made the most sense for Horford. Danny Ainge wasn’t willing to pay Horford market value based upon his age and mileage, which Ainge can’t be blamed for. Horford got $97 million guaranteed, with the rest coming in incentives that revolve around championships and playoff success. Not a bad come-up for someone starting the downward trajectory of his career.

Looking at the talent levels of the 76ers and the Celtics, the edge goes to Philadelphia with Kyrie now headed to Brooklyn. Philadelphia has three borderline All-Stars, all of which are either currently in or entering their primes, plus Horford now, who made the All-Star team just a year ago himself in 2018. It’ll take time to piece the puzzle together, but there’s a possibility this is the best starting five in the NBA. If Horford wants one last shot at winning a championship, Philly is the best place to do it.

Outlook: Starting PF & veteran leader on championship contender

With Jimmy Butler’s and JJ Redick’s salaries off the books, the 76ers had the financial flexibility to sign one more near-max deal in addition to Tobias Harris’s $180M contractHorford is owed $27 million guaranteed annually for the next three years, while the last year of his contract is partially guaranteed based upon championship incentives

Immersed in a “win-now” mentality, the 76ers will be paying the luxury tax for years to come, especially if Ben Simmons signs his offered $170M extension. After years of “Trusting the Process”, Philadelphia is now on the verge of securing their “big four” for years to come. The luxury tax is well worth it to bring basketball respectability back to the Liberty City.

Boston Celtics: For the Celtics, losing Al Horford is a tough pill to swallow. The prototypical center for Brad Steven’s movement-centric offense, the Celtics had a +4.4 offensive rating with him on/off the court and that figure ballooned to +13.2 in the playoffs. An All-Defensive player just a year ago, Horford averaged 1.3 blocks, 0.9 steals and provided excellent rim protection for the third-best paint defense in the NBANot to mention the veteran leadership he brought to a locker room filled with under-25 talents that needed that type of ‘glue’ player in the locker room

Joel Embiid: As has been well documented since being drafted, Joel Embiid is not exactly a paragon of health. Some of it is bad luck with the injury bug, while some of it could be attributed to poor lifestyle choices and insufficient conditioning. Al Horford will be a great influence for Embiid on how to take care of his body and be ready come June, because that’s been one of the 76ers’ main obstacles to getting to the next level. Don’t underestimate Horford’s importance to Embiid’s development on and off the court. Horford challenging Embiid every day in practice will improve nearly every aspect of his game. 

Brad Stevens: In wake of Horford’s departure, Stevens faces a true test of his coaching prowess. Horford was a crucial piece for the Celtics on both ends and replacing him won’t be easy. The Celtics have already agreed to sign Enes Kanter for two-years, $10M as his replacement, who can provide around 70% of what Horford did offensively. On the defensive end, Stevens will have to squeeze everything he can out of sophomore Robert Williams.

Here’s some of the top reactions to the Al Horford signing from around the NBA community

  • Sixers Odds Jump 👀

  • Mike Scott taking a Twitter break

  • Celtics weren’t close to matching

  • All of Boston right now

  • Run it back? 😂

The 76ers lost J.J. Reddick and Jimmy Butler, two crucial components to one of the most lethal starting lineups in the NBA last season. Snagging a player of Al Horford’s caliber catapults them right back into contention. That being said, Horford isn’t getting any younger. If he declines faster than anticipated and Ben Simmons signs an extension, the 76ers will be paying an insane amount of money for just four players. Simply put, if the 76ers win a championship with Horford being the savvy veteran/leader, it’s worth the $109M and deserves an ‘A’. If they fall short of their goal and Horford continues to decline, this amount of investment could prevent Philly from making the moves necessary in the future that would’ve elevated them into contention and deserves a ‘C’ or below. Call it a ‘B’ for now as either option is plausible at this point. 

Grade: B

After three sterling seasons with the Celtics, including an All-Star game and appearance in Game 7 of the Eastern Finals, Al Horford has jumped ship to rival Philadelphia 76ers. His defense, playmaking, and rebounding ensure he’ll fit in with ease.

Bottom Line: Focused on going all-in, Philly is investing $90M+ in the last prime years of Al Horford, hoping it will enable them to get over the hump. 

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