Al Horford’s decision to leave Atlanta wasn’t an easy one, but the Hawks front office tried to make it easier. Sometimes it seems like Atlanta’s front office is a little lost with the trade rumors that pop out. But, last night the Atlanta fans were the lost ones when they got an opportunity to tell Al how much they appreciated them. Instead of remembering the years of All-Star level play, and the long nine year history with the team, Hawks’ fans showed us why Boston is truly a great sports city.

Looking back on Al Horford’s lengthy past with Atlanta

Horford becomes a Hawk

The 2006-2007 season was the season before Atlanta drafted Al Horford. That season, the Hawks were a young team that had been regularly losing 50 games a season, and that season was no different. After another poor season, the Hawks went into the draft lottery with the 4th best odds of landing the first overall pick. The lottery wasn’t kind to the teams with the worst three records that year. Portland won the lottery despite being tied with Minnesota as the 6th worst team. Seattle got the 2nd pick despite being the 5th worst team. The odds of Atlanta getting the 3rd overall pick were incredibly slim.

There were still the top three team’s order combinations available, which means about 67. 7% of the possible combinations belonged to the top three teams. Only 13. 3% of the combinations would have given Atlanta the top pick. Yet, they lucked into getting the 3rd overall pick, and eventually selected Horford. Boston had the second worst team that year, and they ended up with the lowest pick they could have possibly got after the lottery. Had the balls bounced a little differently, Horford may have been wearing green as a rookie. That lottery also sparked the creation of Boston’s big three. So, it’s hard to get mad when you know there was one championship that came out of it. Either way, Atlanta was fortunate to be in a position to draft Horford, and it was a turning point for that franchise.

Horford cements himself in the Atlanta Hawks history books

Al Horford doesn’t crack the top 10 in the Hawks all-time leaders in games played, but he does in 21 other statistically categories. Horford’s highest ranking is in field goal percentage, where he’s 2nd, having made 53. 5% of his shots with the Hawks. Horford isn’t the type of player that’s going to dominate the game in one facet. He has a well rounded game, and steadily impacts every aspect of the game positively for his team.

In Al’s first season in Atlanta, the Hawks went from being the 30th ranked offense to 15th. Atlanta went on the win 37 games in Al’s rookie season, which was 7 more than the year before. That would be the last time the Hawks fell below 40 wins with Horford on the team, with the exception of the 2013-2014 season when Horford was sidelined with a pectoral injury that he suffered the day after Christmas. At the time of the injury the Hawks were 16-13 on the season. After Horford’s season ending injury the Hawks put up 22 wins and 31 losses to finish Isaiah Thomas starting is good for the Boston celtics. Thomas has been a very good player for the celtics. When he was acquired he was initially used in a 6th man role. But since 3 games into last season, he’s been a starter. Some people think because of his height, or lack of defensive ability, he should go back to the bench. That would be a big mistake.

Isaiah Thomas laying it in, as he does so often. Photo by Brad Mills/USA Today

Starting Lineup Dominance

The starting lineup has been very good for the celtics.Usually teams that are looking to make a change to their starting lineup are trying to fix something that isn’t working. That isn’t the case here.

The Celtics 5 man starting lineup of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford has an offensive rating of 111. 7 and a defensive rating of 98. 2.

Out of all Boston Celtics 5 man lineup combinations with 3 games played, and 15 minutes or more, that lineup is the third best Boston lineup defensively.

Isaiah Thomas isn’t a great defender individually. But he can be a part of a great defensive lineup. We saw that last year as well, when the Celtics were 4th best in the NBA in team defensive rating despite starting Isaiah and playing him 30 plus minutes per game.

In fact, using the same data set as before (3 GP, MIN>15), 2/3 of Boston’s best lineups in Net Rating feature Isaiah Thomas.

Rest Disadvantage

Whenever anyone argues for putting Isaiah Thomas on the bench, they always suggest he’d play the same amount of minutes.

The problem is either that the player would then be at a rest disadvantage in the fourth quarter.

Isaiah is the Celtics best go-to scorer and closer right? Well, then he’s playing the end of the fourth quarter. If Isaiah plays 30-32 minutes in between the 6 minute mark of the first quarter, and the end of the game, that’s less rest than if Isaiah started the game at the tip. Also, bringing him in off the bench denies Thomas extended rest periods created by resting him the final 3 minutes or so of a quarter into the quarter break.

Consider your typical rotation. Thomas starts the game, and comes out with 4 minutes or so in the first quarter. Isaiah would get those 4 minutes of rest plus the break in between quarters. Also, Thomas wouldn’t start the second quarter, but would come in to close out the half.

Bringing Isaiah in off the bench would deny him the extended rest periods created by using him to start the game, and bringing him out at the end of the first and third quarters. All starter-quality players are going to be playing a lot of minutes anyway. So I don’t buy the argument that he’s going to get more time against bench quality point-guards, or lineups that aren’t featuring rim protectors.

If anything, the Celtics would now be asking their best go-to scorer and closer to go against those same guys in the end of the fourth quarter, with much less rest and much shorter resting periods than they were given.

Isaiah is a Great Player

Isaiah Thomas is a great player having a great year. He’s now 8th in the league in scoring. As well as 17th in the league in assists. There are only 8 players in the NBA in the top 25 of both of those categories. They are: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas, Stephen Curry, John Wall, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounpo.

It’s possible benching Isaiah Thomas would send a bad message to the rest of the league. Your guy is performing well enough to be on that list above? And you bench him?

Thomas was doubted coming out of High School, coming out of college, and even coming out of his rookie contract. He overcomes all that, becomes an all-star, and while he plays for your team ups his scoring average to 26 per game and you bench him?

This team has a good reputation around the league. If that weren’t true, Kevin Durant wouldn’t have invited the team to meet with him, and the team wouldn’t have been able to sign Al Horford. It would be a shame to ruin that image.

Isaiah Thomas is 2nd in the Eastern Conference in points per game.

– BostonCelticsForever (@BostonCelts4eva) December 6, 2016

Rotations

The Celtics have not had much time fully healthy this year. Rotations are still being worked out. When the team gets Isaiah back I would not further disrupt rotations roles by putting Isaiah on the bench. That’d be such a dramatic change that whole new lineups and combinations would have to be established. That level of experimenting could lose the Celtics a few games.

The best thing the Celtics can do is try to win while Isaiah is out, and re-establish what was working before he got hurt.

Horford left the Atlanta Hawks being in the top ten in offensive rating, offensive win shares, and defensive win shares. He ranks 5th all-time in the team’s history for win shares, box plus/minus, and value over replacement player. The other categories he is in the top ten in are defensive box plus/minus, defensive rebound percentage, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, player efficiency rating, blocks per game, two point field goal percentage, blocks, all three rebounding categories, and field goals made. He is also ranked 9th all-time in Hawks two point field goals made, while not being in the top ten in two point field goals attempted.

Where the Hawks front office did Horford wrong

Atlanta has a habit of making guys available on the trade market in a public manner. Last season, there was a lot of talk about trading Horford, who was still only 30 years old, and up for a contract in the offseason. Horford had this to say while the trade talk was swirling:

I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.Sam Amick of USA Today Sports

According to Chris Mannix, the asking price for Horford was borderline ridiculous, but they were clearly willing to deal him given the right trade. That’s not bad business, but it is basically telling Horford that the team wasn’t sure they were going to sign him in the offseason. Ultimately, he wasn’t dealt, but there was a ton of speculation about whether or not he would be leading up to the trade deadline.

Cue the offseason

With Horford still a free agent, Atlanta signs Dwight Howard to a 3 year, $70. 5 million deal. There were rumors that Denver was in trade talks for Paul Millsap, but the timing of those talks is unknown. If Atlanta was considering trading Millsap if Horford signed, then re-signing Horford would have made sense. Horford has expressed a desire to spend more time at power forward, and trading Millsap and signing Howard would have effectively moved him to power forward.

At the same time, does anyone trust Atlanta when it comes to trade talk. No team expresses an interest in trading some of its best players more than Atlanta. Yet, they so rarely follow through. Had Horford re-signed with the Hawks with both Millsap and Howard still on the team, Horford would have potentially been moved to the bench. It’s unsure what Atlanta’s plans were, but they did offer him a contract.

This series of tweets chronicle the negotiations between the Hawks and Horford:

Hawks offer to Al Horford topped out at $136 million over 5 years, sources said.- Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 2, 2016

Sources: Tremendous momentum for Hawks in final hours, w/ Horford returning and giving Hawks chance. In end, Hawks, Horford $6M total apart.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 2, 2016

Hawks believed Horford’s heart was with them, would accept last offer. Horford dropped demand of full 5-year max but sides never closed gap.- Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 2, 2016

So, it appeared that it came down to Horford wanting a 4 year/$115 million contract, while the Hawks were only willing to go as high as 4 year/$109 million. I’m sure those numbers are not accurate, but they are in the ball park. So, the Celtics offered their 4 year/$113 million and he took it.

Welcome to Boston Al Horford

On his way out the door, Al Horford takes out a full page ad on page A5 of an Atlanta newspaper to thank the fans for everything.

Why again did the Hawks’ fans boo Horford?

Al Horford gave Atlanta 9 great years of being an All-Star caliber basketball player. He was also a great teammate, a great overall person, a role model, and a member of the community. Meanwhile, he was thrown on the trade block. Saw his team sign a player for big money that plays the same position as him. And, he was stone-walled by Atlanta’s management over just over one million dollars a season.

So, last night he walks onto the Phillips Arena court for the first time in another team’s uniform, and is greeted with boos from the Atlanta crowd. It’s not always easy to judge a fan base’s reaction from small sample sizes. Last night’s fan base in Atlanta was especially thin. Perhaps, the few thousand people that showed up in time for introductions and the first half were the minority. Still, that is no way to treat a player that has been as productive and respectful as Al Horford. Fortunately for the Atlanta fans, Boston visits again on April 6th. Perhaps then, the fan will get it right.