Al Horford does the rounds at Celtics Media Day. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)
WALTHAM — All the Celtics of recent memory have heard is that they’re just missing “that” piece. There’s no exact definition of what that piece is, but there is belief that Al Horford is said piece.
He can run the floor, play defense in the low post, step out and shoot 3-pointers, play strong around the rim and grab rebounds in the process — nearly all things the C’s needed to address this offseason. And while his addition came at the cost of $113 million over four seasons, it appears that if he continues the trend that has defined a successful nine-year career, he will help the Celtics take another step forward.
“He’s going to open the floor for everybody,” said Avery Bradley during the Celtics’ Media Day on Monday. “He’s a great player on the offensive end, defensive end. He knows how to play the game of basketball. To have him be a part of this team, I’m just happy about it.”
Added Celtics president Danny Ainge (who was exceptionally giddy throughout his press conference), “As much as anything he’s been very consistent over his career. Shooting the ball, playing multiple positions. He’s a guy that fits in with our system with big guys handling the ball a lot.”
With the hefty contract he’s signed, and the track record he’s had in his career, the 30-year-old Dominican is being fancied as the shepherd to take the Celtics to the promise land.
And while it may be steep to put that all on Horford — especially on a team-centric squad like the Celtics — his all-around skill should fit into the Celtics’ system.
“We’re not asking Al to be anything more than him,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a good fit for how we play on offense. He’s a good fit for how we play on defense. He’s a professional. He has a routine. He works hard at his craft. He’s a guy that guys can follow by example.”
The decision to come to Boston started even before the free agency period for Horford. In fact, it came well before this season even ended.
“Even though I was with Atlanta last year and we beat the Celtics in the playoffs, I was very impressed with how hard the guys played, and how good the team could be under Coach Stevens,” Horford said. “What I saw, it just really intrigued me.
“In the free agency process — at beginning I would say I was really comfortable with Atlanta. As time went on and I met with the Celtics, it just became real to me. Looking at my career, going into my 10th year, I wanted to be able to be a part of something special and win a championship. And with the type of guys that we have, we have that opportunity.”
Horford noted that the banners hanging amongst the rafters at the TD Garden have always been overwhelming, even since he was a rookie. Tucked away in the corner of the Celtics’ practice facility in Waltham, Horford sat along the 17 banners that preceded, while each scoreboard and shot clock illuminated with the number 18.
Leading up to this moment, however, he could tell something was different even during the postseason. While fans nearly booed Dennis Schroeder out of Atlanta for a spat with Isaiah Thomas, the same people were surprisingly benevolent with the arguably then-Hawks’ most valuable player.
That was for a good reason.
“The fans here, they can get pretty intense,” Horford said. “But I did notice that the fans would say, ‘You’re going to be here next year’, things like that. I did notice that people weren’t coming at me like in the past. It’s a very smart fanbase and they were kind of aware of the possibility, so they caught me a break.”
In the meantime, Horford is just going to get going Tuesday, see how he fits in and not try and build Rome in a day.
“We have some great leaders here already,” Horford said. “I want to be able to help our team grow, get acclimated as fast as I can, and just help us be a better team. I want us to grow. I took a chance on coming here, and I believe in the guys we have here, the organization, and the potential that there is here.”