Horford makes Finals (and earns contract incentive) 2 years after Sixers trade


As the heftiness of Al Horford’s contact hung over the Sixers, it was always necessary to note that his four-year deal was not completely guaranteed.

But now, with the 35-year-old set to make his first NBA Finals appearance, the Celtics reportedly plan to ensure Horford is paid the most he could earn for the 2022-23 season. 

By winning the Eastern Conference, Horford’s guaranteed salary for next year rose from $14.5 million to $19.5 million. And his contract is structured such that a Finals victory would guarantee he makes $26.5 million next season. But whether Horford gets that additional $7 million apparently won’t hinge on Boston beating the Warriors. MassLive’s Brian Robb reported “the Celtics are expected to bring Horford back and guarantee the full $26.5 million no matter what happens in the NBA Finals.”

That Horford would be a valuable member of a Finals team didn’t look likely two years ago when the Sixers traded him to the Thunder. He spent a single season of that four-year, $109 million contract in Philadelphia before Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey sent him to Oklahoma City and acquired Danny Green.

As the Sixers envisioned, Horford upgraded the team’s backup center situation considerably and featured in a starting unit that defended and rebounded well. When Horford and Joel Embiid shared the floor, the Sixers ranked in the 93rd percentile in defensive rating and 92nd percentile in defensive rebounding percentage, per Cleaning the Glass. However, offense tended to be laborious and ineffective with Horford and Embiid flanked by Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris. 

As the Sixers prepared to resume their season in the NBA’s Disney World bubble, Horford admitted he “probably wasn’t where I wanted to be” physically before the league’s COVID-19 pause and said he was “in a much better place.”

That’s relevant context for how the five-time All-Star has played this season for Boston, though the Sixers’ bubble memories aren’t at all pleasant. After Simmons suffered a season-ending left knee injury, Boston swept the Sixers out of the first round. Horford came off the bench in Game 2 but returned to the starting lineup for Game. 3. 

"Just the importance of this game, the magnitude of this game,” Brett Brown said of that decision a few days before the Sixers fired him as their head coach. “A little bit (him playing his) former team. Mostly just the moment. He’s been in the playoffs for 12 years. He’s Al Horford. There’s a physicality that I know and knew he would bring to the table. 

“And I just trusted his résumé, I trusted the fact that he was going to come with an adult mind and a physical presence. It didn’t take a lot of thought, truly, to go through after you watch the series and so on. For me, it was kind of inevitable. You get to this situation, Game 3 … if we’re going down, I’m going down with him. I thought that defensively, he was very good."

Two years after Brown and the Sixers indeed went down with Horford, he’ll presumably start Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday night. 

"I'm just so excited to be back as a Celtic and in this position," Horford told NBC Sports Boston's Abby Chin following Boston's Game 7 win over the Heat. "It feels great. It's a lot of hard work. A lot of years working toward this opportunity. I'm just so grateful. Grateful of these guys, watching these guys grow up, it's unbelievable."

Of course, Horford’s head coach is another former Sixer. 

Ime Udoka guided Boston back from a 16-19 start to the East’s second seed, finishing fourth in Coach of the Year voting. Suns head coach Monty Williams, a Sixers assistant the year before Udoka’s season in Philadelphia, won the award.

Udoka clearly had promising qualities for a head coach, but the Sixers ultimately replaced Brown with Doc Rivers. The 44-year-old then served a season on the Nets' staff before taking the Boston job and leading an outstanding defensive team to the franchise’s first conference title since Rivers was head coach. 

Other former Sixers in the Finals include Warriors wing Andre Iguodala and Celtics guard Nik Stauskas. 

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