Trading Al Horford could come back to bite Celtics
The Celtics beagn their run of deep playoff seasons after signing Al Horford in 2016. When he left for Philadelphia the team did make it to an Eastern Conference Finals that next Bubble season, but failed to make it past the first round the next season. Brad Stevens as his first move as team president in 2021 swapped Kemba Walker and a valuable first round pick (Alperen Sengun) to bring Al back home to Boston. The Celtics would proceed to make the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010 with Horford back in the middle.
Due to the Celtics trade for Kristaps Porzingis as well as their refusal to re-sign Grant Williams (or sign-and-trade for players), Boston is lacking in the contracts to include with disgruntled point guard Malcolm Brogdon to trade for Jrue Holiday. While according to John Hollinger there is one potential trade route where Boston could sign-and-trade Blake Griffin and unload all their remaining tradable bench players (Payton Pritchard, Jordan Walsh, Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet) to make the contract matching work, the odds of that occurring are slim.
Assuming Boston was able to get Blake Griffin on board with it, neither Payton Pritchard nor Jordan Walsh have the value of a first round pick, so Boston would have to beat every other offer by offering much better first round assets to trump other teams' picks and players being offered. Yes, Portland could flip Brogdon to another team like the Clippers, but to this point it's unclear if Los Angeles is even willing to part with a first rounder for Brogdon. Plus they are going after Jrue as well.
And for the same reason the Celtics let Grant Williams go for essentially nothing, it's also doubtful Boston would trade for Holiday going this route. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will both be making super maxes. If the Celtics trade for Holiday they will likely have to renegotiate his deal next summer when he will want a multi year deal instead of picking up his player option.
Boston is also paying Porzingis $28 million a year. Add in Derrick White's potential new deal and Robert Williams' contract and we're talking 2nd apron team. There is no indication that Celtics ownership has the willingness to be a spender like the Warriors. And if the Celtics empty their draft coffins (Is it spelled another way?) in a trade for Holiday, they won't be able to supplement their big ticket players with cost controlled draft picks
Every winning Celtics team has been partly comprised of these low cost first rounders. Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins started next to the Big 3. 1st rounders on rookie deals like Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Robert Williams, Grant Williams, and Payton Pritchard have all been rotation players in the team's modern era.
While Portland will ask for Robert Williams instead due to age and upside, the Celtics will counter with Horford for the same reasons. Like Brogdon, Portland would also flip Horford to a contender for a young player or pick. But now ask yourself where would the Celtics stand in a post Holiday for Brogdon/Horford/FRP's trade?
Boston would have a fantastic 3 guard rotation of Holiday, White, and Brown, but both Jrue and Jaylen tend to miss games due to injuries, so the team would need to add a capable 4th guard for the vet minimum.
Small forward wise Jayson Tatum is a top 6 player in the NBA, but he also often plays the 4 with the Celtics using the standard modern NBA 1 big line-up. And here comes the issue. The lone bigs on the roster would be the oft injured due of Robert Williams and Kristaps Porzingis. Expecting just one of them to be counted on for a full season and more importantly playoffs is a tall ask. Planning on both being available is general manager malpractice.
Holiday would look great in green, but the cost is the key
Reality is Al Horford despite his age has always been the rock in the middle for the Celtics. Not comparing him to the Chief in terms of career accolades, but he has played that role for the Celtics. The steady professional man in the middle. Yes Tatum, Brown, Smart, and Ime Udoka deserve credit for the team's run to the NBA Finals, but if you watched that playoffs, Al Horford was a huge part as well. Personally I think while Smart got the credit as the third guy, Horford that playoffs was more indispensable.
Horford then followed up that high, by agreeing to a team friendly two year contract extension, presumably to retire as a Celtic. Yes I know business is business, but when a player takes less to stay, turning around and trading that aforementioned team friendly contract before the extension even kicked in is not the greatest look.
Add in the fact the Boston still has this bad reputation (In my opinion unwarranted) for doing Isaiah Thomas wrong and this surely wouldn't help the perception of NBA players and Boston. Throw in the Kyrie Irving Boston racism stuff of recent years and you get the point.
But that off the court part aside, on the court a huge hole would be created in the middle for Boston assuming lightning doesn't strike twice in terms of both Williams and Porzingis miraculously remaining healthy for 100 odd games. When Boston made the NBA Finals, they had Horford, Theis, Time Lord, and Grant Williams as their four capable bigs. Swapping the reliable Horford plus Theis plus Grant for just Porzingis is a major depth issue.
I mean part of the reason Brad said he was going to trade a guard this offseason was for better roster balance. The Celtics went from 4 bigs down to 3 last season. Going down to 2 is not exactly providing that balance. Trading your starting point guard in Smart, your starting center in Horford, your 6th man of the year in Brogdon, and your 8th man in Grant for just Porzingis and Holiday would leave the Celtics extra thin.
And yes I am aware Al Horford is up there in age and he shot poorly this past spring in the playoffs, but he also shot the lights out in the regular season. Jaylen stunk in the Eastern Conference Finals and White had a great shooting playoffs. Jaylen isn't that bad and While is unlikely to maintain those hot shooting numbers.
Opinions of players like Brown, White, and Horford have such a recency bias slant. The Celtics would miss their rock in the middle in Horford and just like people think Jrue would salivate to revenge his trade from Milwaukee in a potential playoff series against Lillard, don't discount Horford also biting the Celtics in the ass, not just from his absence in green, but as a member of a playoff rival.
Horford would have a very tradable contract that every contender in the league could fit on their books. You want him on Milwaukee? Or Miami? Or Denver? Or Phoenix? You get the point. A smart team will also manage Horford’s minutes better in the regular season so he can still be fresh for the playoffs.
So while the idea of Jrue teaming with Tatum and Brown is exciting, even if Portland would accept a deal of Brogdon, Horford, Pritchard, and let's say just one Celtics first rounder and one additional pick swap (most likely not enough draft capital for the Blazers), I could see the Celtics getting bounced in the playoffs due to their size issues. The optimist in me can count on one of Time Lord or Porzingis to be available for every playoff game, but that's it.
And despite the lessoned role of center position in the modern NBA, you're not winning a title with a Luke Kornet caliber big playing 40 rotation minutes. And you're also less likely to win a title with Al Horford on the opposing team than your own.