The Celtics offseason just added another layer of intrigue on Tuesday after Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com was first to report that Al Horford has declined his $30.1 million player option ahead of today's deadline and elected to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Wojnarowski indicated that the Celtics and Horford still have an interest in reaching a long-term extension despite today's decision, but Horford understandably kept his options open in the wake of the team missing out on Anthony Davis and likely losing Kyrie Irving in free agency next month. Horford averaged 13.6 and 6.7 rebounds for the Celtics a season ago in the third year of a four-year max contract signed in the summer of 2016.
BSJ Analysis: This decision should come as no surprise after Horford's exclusive comments to BSJ about his priorities moving forward.
“Ever since I came into the league, I always want to contend for a championship,” Horford told BostonSportsJournal.com. “As soon as I got to Boston, especially this last couple of years, the last year we were right there. I haven’t won one yet and that’s kind of like where I want to start. That’s what I play for. I’m not playing for anything else but to win.”
The Celtics' path to contending is not a dead end entirely if Irving walks away as expected, but the route towards the top tier of the East is far less clear for Boston. That fact alone, along with what will be a pivotal draft night for the Celtics with three first-round picks on Thursday keeps a variety of different team-building options in play for the franchise, one of which may be taking a bigger step back towards building around youth this summer. Due to that reason, the Celtics may have been hesitant to commit too much to Horford now ahead of seeing what they were able to execute on Thursday night when it comes to improving the roster.
Horford's agent Jeff Schwartz finds himself in an ideal spot right now upon letting his player hit the open market. At age 33, Horford will be looking for more security and likely the last significant payday of his career while also playing for a team with title aspirations. The free agent market should be full of teams in win-now mode with significant cap room including