Reports: If Hawks hesitate on fifth year, Thunder among teams lined up to poach Al Horford

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The Atlanta Hawks are the kind of franchise that sometimes has to overpay to get or keep elite talent. The Hawks may not like to picture themselves that way, but that is the reality of things.

Enter free agent Al Horford.

The four-time All-Star may have spent his entire nine-year career in Atlanta, but that doesn’t exclude the Hawks from needing to overpay to keep him. Horford is an obvious max player — and the second best player available when free agency starts July 1 — but the Hawks are going to have to offer the fifth year of guaranteed money to keep him. It is the one thing Atlanta can do no other team can, his other suitors can only offer four years. Will Horford be overpaid and not nearly as valuable at age 35 in the final year of the deal? Yes. But the Hawks have to do it anyway, or they lose him and have to start a rebuild.

But the Hawks are hesitating, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

The Hawks are reluctant to offer Horford the fifth year only they can dangle, and if they hold firm, they are at grave risk of losing him for nothing, per league sources. (Watch out for the Pistons on Horford; with Wednesday’s trade of Meeks, they are one tiny move away from being able to fit his max. They are working to schedule a meeting with Horford over the first 48 hours of free agency, sources say. Horford’s fit alongside Andre Drummond is another question entirely.)

It’s not just the Pistons, the Thunder may make a pitch to Horford to come to them and win, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

As they prepare to make their pitch to Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been making calls around the league looking to clear a massive amount of salary-cap space in a move rival executives believe is an effort to go after free agent Al Horford in addition to Durant, multiple sources told ESPN.

Horford played for Thunder coach Billy Donovan at Florida, where they teamed up to win two national titles, and they remain close. The Thunder have an opening at power forward after trading Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic last week.

To sign Horford likely would mean the Thunder having to move Enes Kanter — and they are willing to do that because they understand that’s the kind of bold move and sacrifice needed to keep a star like Durant and win a title.

Would the Hawks do something that bold?

If not the Thunder or Pistons, Horford will have other options — the Wizards, Rockets, Lakers, Heat, and Warriors have all been rumored as potential suitors.

If the Hawks lose Horford in free agency, they might as well also let Kent Bazemore go (he’s also a free agent), then trade Paul Millsap and start the rebuild. Refusing to offer Horford the fifth year is just a team trying to be safe and thrifty. Which would be very Atlanta Hawks.