This is what Danny Ainge — not to mention legions of Boston Celtics fans — have been waiting for.
Years of gathering assets, developing players, and coming along slowly had gotten the team to the ceiling of 48 wins, but the Celtics were not going to move past that number in any serious way without adding elite talent. They were a team of role players led by a dynamic point guard in Isaiah Thomas and a fantastic coach in Brad Stevens, but talent wins out in the NBA, and the Celtics had maxed theirs out.
Now they have Al Horford.
And that changes everything.
It does not make them an instant threat to beat the Cavaliers next season; they are still a tier below the champions. For now. They may be the second best team in the East, about on par with Toronto, but that’s not the level of a title contender.
What this does — besides seriously upgrade Boston’s talent — is open the door to the next wave of free agents. No more “they can’t land a star” talk. Stars that might have been hesitant to take a hard look at the Celtics before will now give them more serious consideration. Remember, the 2017 free agent class is much deeper than this year’s class (and 2018 could be good as well). Also, players (and their agents) may be more willing to push for a trade with Boston than they had been before.
The Horford signing probably does not change the Kevin Durant dreams — although this news broke during their meeting with him, which certainly gave it a boost. Still, everyone but Oklahoma City is a longshot, and the Warriors may well land him if he does bolt OKC. However, if Durant does sign a 1+1 contract with the Thunder and reconsiders staying in a year, Boston’s meeting and landing Horford will have laid a foundation to open up talks again.
Horford changes the dynamics in the East — Boston has gone from a nice team of role players and picks (thanks again, Brooklyn) to a good team with the assets to make the moves needed to get great. They become a team that could be a contender in a couple of years with the right moves. They look like a team about to be a real threat in the East.
Danny Ainge got his man. And with that it will be easier to get the next one. And the one after that.
An 18th banner in the Boston Garden suddenly seems like less a fan pipe dream and more like a road the Celtics could travel down. It’s a long and difficult road, but suddenly the map is there.
All thanks to Al Horford’s decision. It has started to change the landscape in the East.