Hawks lose franchise stalwart Horford to Boston

Al Horford led the Atlanta Hawks to nine straight playoff appearances and the franchise's only trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

Al Horford led the Atlanta Hawks to nine straight playoff appearances and the franchise’s only trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

Published on Monday, 7/4/16, at 3:13 p.m. Eastern.

The Al Horford Era in Atlanta is over. What a fucking shame!

I’m going to puke when I see him in those ugly-as-hell Celtic green uniforms that I’ve despised since the early 1980s. That thought just makes my stomach turn.

Gross!

Make no mistake, the Atlanta Hawks blew it Saturday when they wouldn’t budge off of their final offer and fell $6 million shy of Al Hoford’s contract demands.

Therefore, Horford bolted to the Boston Celtics, the franchise that has tormented Hawks’ fans for decades.

I called him ‘Baby Tito’ at first because he is the son of Tito Horford, a former NBA player. But it didn’t take long for me to adjust that moniker. Al Horford is big and sure as hell isn’t a baby. Hence, I started calling him ‘Big Al’ and have gone with that ever since.

I’ll never forgot watching him play for the first time as a true freshman at the University of Florida in 2005. When a big man brings down a rebound and starts trying to lead a fastbreak, the result is usually a turnover. Furthermore, the big man often gets yanked out of the game and told to never pull a stunt like that again.

But Horford was special, different in a good way. He had the ball-handling skills and pass-first mentality to lead fastbreaks effectively. And he did so – quite often.

He also rebounded – like a monster. Unlike most bigs, he had a nice touch on his jumper and has always been solid at the free-throw line. Horford started immediately at UF as a true freshman, playing next to senior David Lee in the frontcourt. Horford had a tremendous freshman campaign, while Joakim Noah rarely touched the court once SEC play started. Horford’s breakout game came on a Saturday afternoon at the O-Dome when he scored 14 points and grabbed 18 rebounds to lead the Gators to an 85-54 blowout win over 11th-ranked Alabama.

Afterward, Alabama coach Mark Gottfried told the Florida Times-Union, “Horford in there on the glass absolutely destroyed us. He kicked our fannies today. There wasn’t any mistaking that.”

In 2006, Horford, Noah, Taurean Green, Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey led the Gators to their first national championship. They would repeat the following year. Noah and Horford formed one of the best inside tandems in college basketball history. You can make a solid argument that Horford is the greatest player in the program’s history.

Before selecting Horford with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Atlanta had missed the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons. With him, the Hawks went to the postseason for nine straight years, including the franchise’s first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

Horford is the Hawks’ all-time leader in playoff games (74) and ranks first in rebounds (621), second in points (958) and field goals (406) and fourth in assists (210). As for regular-season stats, he ranks second in field-goal percentage (53.5%), sixth in blocks (698), eighth in rebounds (5,144) and 10th in player efficiency rating (19.1).

Washington and Boston made strong runs at the four-time All-Star and he reportedly was leaning to the Wizards on Friday night due to their young and talented backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Both clubs were offering max deals for $113 million over four years. Since Atlanta had his Bird rights, it could offer a fifth year. However, the Hawks didn’t offer him a max deal.

Instead, it looked to beef up the roster and add a rim protector with the signing of Dwight Howard on Friday for $70 million on a three-year deal. Hours later, the Hawks re-signed Kent Bazemore to a $70 million contract over the course of four years.

According to multiple reports, Horford relented on getting a max deal. He informed the Hawks on Saturday that he would settle for a $142 million contract over five years ($153 million was the max). The Hawks countered with a final offer of five years for $136 million.

Horford informed the team he would make a decision by Saturday night. The Hawks felt that would be enough and spent Saturday shopping Paul Millsap in order to clear the needed cap room. As many as 15 teams came at the Hawks with trade offers for Millsap, according to various reports.

Citing sources close to Horford, several members of the Atlanta media reported that Horford didn’t like the acquisition of Howard, who is the polar opposite of Horford.

Howard has spent a decade in the league creating chemistry issues and drama within three different organizations. To date, he’s been a classic underachiever.

To the contrary, Horford is a great teammate and a class act on and off the court. They don’t come any better than Horford in the character department.

Also, according to comments made by Tito Horford to Boston.com, his son was very intrigued by Boston’s passionate fan base. Shortly after 4:00 p.m. Eastern on Saturday afternoon, Horford announced on his twitter account that he was joining the Celtics, who lost to the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs but have lots of young talent on board.

Atlanta promptly ended trade talks for Millsap, who inked a thee-year deal for $58 million last ┬ásummer. However, Millsap can opt out after the second season if he chooses and become an unrestricted free agent. If he has another excellent season, he’ll do just that and be able to command a long-term contract worth about $140 million next summer.

Loyal readers know I’m a life-long fan of the Hawks and the Gators. So, it goes without saying that Big Al is one of my favorite athletes ever.

I’m pissed, no doubt about it. But my anger is toward the Hawks, not Horford. He gave me 12 great years — three trips to the NCAA Tournament, a pair of national titles, a 13-1 record in the Big Dance, nine straight playoff berths and a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.

I like to say that Steve Spurrier won the Heisman, married the Homecoming Queen and gave the Gators 12 dynastic seasons and our first ‘national.’ Well, Horford gave us two natties, married Miss Universe and then went to my favorite NBA team and became one of the franchise’s best players ever.

I’m going to miss you, Big Al. You’re one of The Good Guys. Thanks for my rings and thanks for the memories.

 

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