An Al Horford – Celtics reunion might make more sense than you think

In the season and a half since Al Horford’s departure from the Boston Celtics. it’s safe to say the team and the player have probably looked back at the split and had some second thoughts.

And with the exit of former teammate Gordon Hayward to the Charlotte Hornets last offseason, a traded player exception (TPE) the size of Horford’s contract just so happens to open the window to a reunion, should the Celtics think it wise to bring back the beloved big man at the trade deadline. This season, the University of Florida product is earning $27.5 million this season, sliding into the $28.5 million TPE with a million to spare.

For the cap conscious Celtics fans, Horford's deal ends at the same time as Kemba Walker's at the close of the 2022-23 NBA season, just ahead of an important free agency offseason. It also has the perk of inly being partially guaranteed that final season, which would leave Boston on the hook for just $14.5 million if the Michigan native doesn't deliver a finals appearance in his tenure with the team. And he's putting up numbers as good or better than when he was a Celtic, scoring 14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and just under a block and a steal per game with the Oklahoma City Thunder while shooting 37.2% from deep.

One of the biggest bones people have had with trading for Horford is that simply absorbing him into the TPE would push the Celtics well into the range of the luxury tax this season, bringing the dreaded repeater penalty into play much sooner. This would potentially force tough choices about popular players like Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III should the team not want to pay the astronomical payroll such a scenario would generate, but it doesn't necessarily have to play out like that. At least one scenario exists where a deal could be made that might prove attractive to the Thunder while also keeping Boston under the $132.6 million luxury tax.

It wouldn't be a painless trade, but it could make sense on several levels given the team's current frontcourt logjam and free agency concerns. If the Celtics were to deal Tristan Thompson, Daniel Theis and Jeff Teague to OKC, they'd slide in at $2.47 million under the tax, with the wiggle room and roster space to sign a minimum player with under 10 years of experience. We say it wouldn't be painless because Theis is truly an excellent and also-beloved big man, but with a step back, the argument is there for such a trade. Cash could be included for cutting Teague is Oklahoma wasn't up to have him as their third guard, or Carsen Edward could be an alternate inclusion.

To start, it's questionable whether the Celtics will be able to afford Theis' next contract, as the German big man is set to become a free agent this offseason, and teams like the Thunder lacking in big men may well poach Theis away with an offer sheet larger than Boston is willing to pay. Add in that with both he and Thompson on the roster, the development of Robert Williams has clearly been affected negatively, as likely has that of Grant Williams, who excelled in the 2020 Playoffs as a small-ball 5, but has struggled to work as an NBA forward. Then, considering that Horford's play is more conducive to how the Celtics would like to play than Thompson's has been, as well his ability to play the 4 against second units or play with Timelord for shorter stints, and the case for such a move becomes compelling.

And with the value that getting Theis' bird rights brings coupled with the ability to fortify their front line with Thompson for a season and change -- or flip the champion vet as an expiring -- provides value. Value that might see a pick-laden Thunder prefer some unguaranteed second round picks in place of a first, enabling Boston to use to add yet another player to the mix in the offseason with the remaining $17.9 million left on the Hayward TPE. Unlikely? Of course. Big deals are by nature a rare bird in the NBA. But this is a scenario that is within the grasp of two front offices who have dealt successfully in the past, and for players who have fit well in at least one direction in the past. [mm-video type=video id=01f0kkxbbrgmz3gxx7 playlist_id=none player_id=none image=] [lawrence-related id=47753,47729,47716,47677] [listicle id=47755]