Al Horford, assisted by a player option, has parted ways with the team that gave him a max contract in the summer of 2016. An All-Star, Horford has never been a player with grotesque statistical numbers. He does a lot of things very well. He rebounds, he spaces the floor, he blocks shots, and is an expert passer. He thinks team and doesn’t think I. He is well adjusted and never tries to make the play so he gets all the glory. He loves the we part of basketball. When it was reported he was opting out of his Celtics deal, which would have paid him over $30 million, in order to renegotiate terms so the Celtics would have flexibility, it was an Al Horford thing to do. Great guy. Sensitive. Mature. And then, an abrupt halt. Adrian Wojnarowski tweeting that the talks had perished. Danny Ainge bye.
One of the details that are emerging from the Celtics underachievement in 2018-19, aside from the Kyrie leadership vacuum, has to do with Gordon Hayward.
Hayward returning from a devastating injury, led by his college coach, was given the benefit of the doubt because of the history with Stevens that included almost winning the 2010 NCAA men’s championship. But, eight years later Hayward wasn’t ready for that level of NBA trust. He hadn’t earned it. What made it an even dicier proposition was that Hayward was injured in the first game he played as a Celtic. He had not yet blended in with his teammates. He had not earned the trust of the team nor of Brad Stevens, besides their college days. Nevertheless, he was being treated like an All-Star who was ingrained in the system and had the support of his teammates.
The more Hayward looked like a shell of himself but still received valuable minutes and was part of the game plan, the more rumbling of the Celtic earth. It could never be one for all, and all for one, when Hayward was being given benefits other players never would have been afforded.
Chemistry is a very fragile thing. Favoritism always wrecks it. A long time ago, Shaquille O’Neal was a veteran and Kobe Bryant was a rookie. GM Jerry West sent word down that Bryant wasn’t to be hazed. All NBA rookies go through some kind of hazing. Instantly, it made Shaq annoyed. Chemistry wasn’t wrecked because of the details. Bryant rarely played his rookie year. Although off the court Bryant was protected, on the court he had to pay his dues.
Which brings us back to Hayward. He paid his dues with the injury, and all the rehab, and he paid his dues in Utah to earn the max contract, but when did he earn the loyalty he was given in Boston?
He suited up, and Stevens was the doting father helping Hayward recover himself, unaware that players were being pushed aside so a struggling Hayward could have a tutoring session. It was, to date, the biggest mistake of Stevens professional coaching career and it is an example of how the pro game is different from college. The locker room metes out justice in the NBA. If something is not fair, players will not play hard for you. They just won’t.
And so here we are with everything falling apart for the Celtics. They showed no mercy in saying goodbye to Isaiah Thomas, who put his career on the line for them. Now, Al Horford and Kyrie Irving are returning the favor. It’s karma. It’s not karma.
The Celtics will have max money to give someone but who wants to take it now? The reputation of Danny Ainge has taken a hit. He signed Horford and Hayward to free agent deals, traded for Irving, and now only Hayward, the injured one, is left. The joke is on him.