No, signing Tom Brady to a max contract and retiring #12 up in the rafters is not what I'm talking about.
Everything changed for the Boston Celtics the moment when Aldridge tweeted:
League source: Horford to Boston.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 2, 2016
As quite a few people on Twitter noted, goodbye narrative. What narrative? The narrative that the Boston Celtics can't sign big-name free agents. The narrative that no one willingly wants to play in Boston and that they'd only sign here after being kidnapped in a trade by Danny Ainge. That narrative doesn't exist. Of course, after Horford broke that barrier, the hot takes were unleashed. "He's not even that good." "You'll be disappointed." "He doesn't change anything for Boston."
False. He changes everything.
On top of the fact that Al Horford crashed a decades-old narrative about the city of Boston, Al Horford has a massive impact on the team's outlook. Although the aforementioned Tom Brady ultimately did little to sway Kevin Durant to Boston to build an immediate title contender, Horford lays the groundwork for a 50+ win team. Horford signed a 4-year max contract topping out at $113 million total, and by doing that, he accelerated Boston's window from opening a few years from now to opening the moment he signed. The Celtics now have a 4-year minimum window as opposed to patiently building through the Draft and taking their time.
This isn't the end of the world. In fact, this might be the first step in rebuilding Danny Ainge's reputation as a terrible trade partner. Since his trade to acquire every Brooklyn draft pick ever, Ainge has had difficulty at times getting trade partners because Ainge only trades to win the trade. When there's a winner, there's a loser (or multiple losers), and who wants to sign up to be the loser? Now that Ainge has a 50-win team on paper, he can afford to stop lowballing teams in trade offers. Ainge can actually (slightly) overpay on trades. The moment when Ainge makes a trade or two to get better without absolutely robbing the other team, his reputation will be in great position to make another coup when this current team reaches the end of its window. It's a great life-cycle, if you think about it.
As for what Al Horford himself means for the team, he makes an already versatile team more versatile. Remember Boston's baby "Death Lineup?" Of course you don't because no one really talked about it, and we were too busy gushing over Golden State's "Death Lineup" (and that's gotten even deadlier with Durant now). The Thomas-Bradley-Smart-Crowder-Johnson lineup was really, really good for Boston. Typically, when Evan Turner's midrange jumpshots weren't falling, Boston would close games out with this lineup, and it was super effective. Replace Amir Johnson with four-time All-Star Al Horford. Need I say more?
Boston was already 4th in the NBA with a defensive rating of 103.6 at a time when we are seeing all-time historic offensive numbers. Al Horford by himself last season posted a career-high 4.5 defensive win shares, (how many wins a player added measured just by his defense). Al Horford last season also tied a career-high in block percentage (percentage of how many shots are blocked by Horford while he's on the court). With staunch defenders Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley (All-Defensive 1st team!), and Jae Crowder, along with Amir Johnson who positively impacted Boston's defense by a large margin, adding Al Horford's paint presence will only make them better.
When it comes to offense, look no further than Horford's second-highest career marks in box score plus/minus (BPM) and value over replacement player (VORP) last season. At 30-years old, Horford is still one of the premier two-way players in the NBA, and his game will continue to be effective for a few more years, (likely beyond his contract).
Too long; didn't read? Al Horford is great, and he impacts the franchise in a big way. Ainge can continue to focus on consolidating assets to continue building a contender instead of focusing on asset collection. The Celtics finally have a clear direction. The best part is that with so many young assets on board, the Celtics could stand pat this offseason. Already having added the third overall pick in the Draft, Jaylen Brown, along with adding a four-time All-Star, the 48-win Celtics will be better next season by default. Just how much better depends on if/when Ainge makes his next move.
If the Cs stand pat and sign some of their picks, their floor is a top-four roster in the East. Their ceiling? A deep playoff run.