‘I feel a real connection’: Horford stays in Boston for stability and chance to win

BOSTON – The Dominican Al Horford left the Celtics in free agency once. He had no interest in doing it a second time.

That, Horford said, was the main reason he agreed to a two-year, $20 million extension with Boston on Thursday to remain with the franchise through the 2024-25 season.

“For me, I really want to be a part of what we have here,” Horford said after the Celtics held shootaround at their facility before Friday night’s game against the Miami Heat. “Since I came back here last year, I have felt the progress of the group and we continue to move in the right direction.

“I feel like there’s a real purpose to trying to win and the group we have is a really good group. So, I’m happy and we know we have a lot of work ahead of us. But this kind of stability, it’s hard to find.”

Horford himself learned this the hard way. In 2019, after spending three seasons in Boston, and reaching the Eastern Conference finals twice, Horford decided to leave and join the Philadelphia 76ers on a four-year, $109 million deal that ends in 2023. But after a disastrous first season in Philly, in which he proved a poor fit with the superstar Joel EmbiidHorford’s salary was transferred to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the following offseason.

Then, after spending a year with the Thunder, missing the playoffs for the first time in his career, he was traded to the Celtics for Kemba Walker in Brad Stevens’ first move as the team’s president of basketball operations.

Horford said that experience, and the joy he felt last year in returning to the Celtics and participating in the team’s run to the NBA Finals, played a big part in him taking less than he potentially could have received in the open market as an unrestricted free agent in the summer to move on with Boston.

“One of the things is, more than anything, you want to be in a place where you have a chance to compete, to win,” Horford said. “A place that is, to me, more than basketball. Boston, I feel a real connection here to the people and to what the Celtics are about, and it’s something that really excites me. And the fact that I have that opportunity and Brad believes in me and it brought me here, it’s something special, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”

Horford, 36, is now signed through what will be his 39th birthday. Already in his 16th NBA season, Horford said he wasn’t always sure he could have the kind of longevity he’s been able to create for himself. But as he’s aged, he’s become an excellent long-range shooter: He’s making nearly 50 percent of his 3-point shots this season, an opportunity he attributes to his time with the Atlanta Hawks, including executives Rick Sund. and Danny Ferry and the coaches mike budenholzer and Kenny Atkinson.

This season, Horford, who is averaging 10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, has defended Boston on the inside as the Celtics await the return of the defensive anchor. robert williams iii from knee surgery that took place just before the start of training camp.

And with things turning out that way, Horford said it was important for him to clear up any lingering uncertainties about his future and show a commitment to the Celtics, who enter Friday night’s game with the best record in the NBA. at 18-4.

“I think this was something that was going to happen at some point or another,” Horford said, when asked if there had been any talks about the extension. “Like I said, there were different things that the team had to deal with and things like that. There wasn’t really any urgency, per se, but I wanted to make sure that this didn’t drag on into free agency and the summer and the time was right, sort it out. and focus on the season.”

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‘I feel a real connection’: Horford stays in Boston for stability and chance to win