In one of the strangest days of free agency. Al Horford, one of the biggest free agents on the market, left the Atlanta Hawks to join the Boston Celtics. For the Celtics, it confirmed the growth that their fans have pointed to for the last two seasons, and for the Hawks it marked the end of a strong era. But not only did the move signify the shift in basketball talent, but it highlighted some strong front office characteristics that go into attacking free agency.
Where the Hawks went wrong
Hawks management had a choice in free agency. They could easly sign Al Horford to the max, drop a few assets to bring in Bazemore, and use remaining space, and potential space clearing moves to get a valuable backup point guard to go behind Dennis Schroder. Their would be questions about Schroder’s leadership ability, but you’d still be brining in the same strong frontcourt that anchored the league’s second best defense, and you’d be able to infuse the young talent you got in the draft. Instead, the Hawks tried to hard ball Horford about the dollars, then went ahead and signed Dwight Howard as a possible replacement. Finally, when it became apparent that Horford was really leaving, they tried to offer the full five years, but reportedly came up 6 million dollars apart before he finally decided to go elsewhere. The Hawks biggest blunder seemed to be in the their lack of patience. Had they not immediatley tried to lock up Dwight Howard so early, they may have been able to easily secure Horford, who also was reportedly not a fan of the Howard signing. Instead of investing a full court press for their number one free agent, the Hawks decided to complete their plan B, then circle around to plan A.
You could argue that in the Atlanta market the move had some merit. In a city that has histrorically struggled with attendance, the chance of losing Al Horford without actually brining in a big name to replace him could have immense monetary consequences. Instead, the Hawks can still pitch their fans on the “Coming Home” storyline of Dwight, and play up how Dwight and the city can come together and make each other stronger. Hopefully, the fans don’t remember the last time Dwight was a free agent at the top of his game, and wouldn’t even sit down with hometown team –but that’s neither here or their. The Hawks may be able to save face from a PR standpoint, but fans know what Horford has done for this city during his tenure, and losing him to bring in a guy who’s just not as good will make the on-court product suffer tremendously. If the Hawks really free fall this season, this will be one of the big topics of discussion.
Boston finally able to capitalize
For Boston, the move was so much sweeter because of the patitence that was required from ownership and the fanbase. Since Celtics president Wyc Grousbeck called for fireworks, the team has vastly underwhelmed by those standards, yet continously making good moves, and preserving cap space. Even without what many people would consier a “foundational star”, the Celtics increased their win total every season for the past three years, and positioned themselves as an upper middle-class team that needed one more piece to really make them serious. Because of the well-known trade with the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics were in a situation where they had the assets needed for a trade if the right deal approached, a top 3 draft selection, and the potential cap room to sign two max contract players, a rare situation for any front office. Boston also had the power of time, their was no rush to make huge moves now because the team was the 4th youngest in the league and had the option of simply just staying put, and attacking the next free agency pool that was suppoused to be deeper. But when Atlanta made the mistake of not maxing out Horford instantly, the Celtics got back in the running and when it came down to it, the more successful on-court product along with the electric fanbase won Horford over. The narrative in Boston about not being to bring in prime free agents is now dead, the front office can feel a bit vindicated after so many missed the vision behind their conservative NBA draft. Celtics finally got their fireworks.
The tale between the Hawks and Celtics management speaks volumes to what happens when you make rushed decisions rather than patient and calculated moves. Hawks now have a roster that resembles a management’s confusion on wether to tank or stay competitive, while the Celtics now have a roster that can begin making serious threats to the Cleveland Cavaliers.