But he’s not the only Celtics starter who could hit unrestricted free agency.
Al Horford has a $30,123,015 player option for next season. That’s likely a higher salary than Horford could get in free agency, so he could opt in. The 33-year-old could also opt out to re-sign on a long-term deal that includes a lower salary next season but more total compensation. Or he could even opt out to leave Boston.
Celtics president Danny Ainge sounds interested in the second option.
Asked about the possibility that Al Horford could opt out of the final year of his deal (and $30.1 million) and negotiate a potential extension to stay in Boston, Ainge said, “That will be discussed. That’s one of the priorities on our list as well.”
If Irving, Horford and Aron Baynes opt out and Boston renounces all its free agents, the Celtics would project to have about $34 million in cap space. But in this hypothetical, a bulk of that earmarked would be earmarked for Horford. Will there be enough space left to exceed the $9 million-ish Boston could spend through the mid-level exception available to over-the-cap teams?
In other words, this might be a year to pay Horford his high salary. If he’ll come cheaper in future seasons, the savings could be more valuable then.
But if Horford opts in rather than opting out to re-sign a long-term deal, the Celtics risk losing him entirely in 2020 free agency. Even if the intention now is for him to re-sign, so much can change in a year.
Of course, Horford holds the cards. It’s his option.
Boston can entice him, though. The Celtics must evaluate their direction. Will Irving defy convention and re-sign? Will Boston trade for Anthony Davis and prioritize the present? Will the Celtics build more patiently around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and multiple extra first-round draft picks this year and future years? All that will inform how Boston proceeds with Horford.
Likewise, Horford must decide whether he wants to stay. The veteran could see a team losing its best player and want to move on himself.
But there’s definitely potential for the Celtics and Horford to commit long-term to each other very soon.