Al Horford impressing early, making ‘huge’ case to be Celtics starter

"He looks lively, fresh, and looks rejuvenated."

Al Horford
Al Horford of the Boston Celtics poses for a photo during Media Day. Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

The Celtics have plenty of training camp battles at the bottom of the roster that will be sorted out over the next few weeks, but also a big one (literally) at the top: Will Al Horford or Rob Williams be the team’s starter at center?

A strong case could be made for either player. Williams impressed in his limited minutes last season and raised eyebrows with his performance against the Nets in the playoffs. The Celtics signed him to an extension this summer that could be worth as much as $48 million over the next four years, seemingly cementing his status as the center of the future.


Horford, meanwhile, has a prior history playing with the Celtics’ best players. A versatile five who can space the floor and help an offense run smoothly, he could be a perfect candidate to make Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown better — a trait Brad Stevens used as a guiding principle in team-building decisions this summer.

On Thursday, when new head coach Ime Udoka was asked about Horford, he said the veteran looks noticeably fresh and has made a strong first impression in camp.

“He’s looked great since the day he came into training camp and talked about how he took care of his body and how much of an opportunity this is,” Udoka said. “And he’s happy to be back. So you can see with his body and how he’s playing, he looks lively, fresh, and looks rejuvenated. We’re loving what we’re seeing from him.”

The decision to start either player is a good problem for the Celtics — Horford could add offensive punch off the bench, or he could grease the wheels in the starting lineup. Similarly, Williams’ shot-blocking and vertical spacing is a nice addition next to Tatum, Brown, and Marcus Smart, but he could dominate against second-unit centers.


The Celtics have other options as well — they could start both Horford and Williams, or they could alternate starting lineups based on matchups.

But early indicators might lean toward Horford. When Rob Williams talked about putting on muscle at media day, he mentioned bulking up to guard Andre Drummond in Philadelphia — the 76ers’ back-up center to Joel Embiid. Meanwhile, Udoka said Horford has made “a huge case” for himself.

“We feel versatility is an asset for us, with the lineups we can start, but a guy like Al is making a huge case obviously, the way he’s come in and looked and played, the leadership and things he’s brought,” Udoka said. “I mentioned some of the versatility with what he can do as far as pass the ball, handle it and shoot it, so he’s an asset there but it’s also finding the right balance for our bench, as well.”

Horford is older than he was the first time he arrived in Boston — 35 instead of 30 — but he said he feels good at Media Day.

“The difference between 30 and 35, the season will tell and time will tell, but I feel really good now,” Horford said. “I feel more prepared than I was back when I came five years ago, obviously I know what to expect. I’m very familiar and comfortable with a lot of the guys, with the staff. With the city itself, I’m comfortable as well. I personally think I’m in a better place, and I’m just really excited for what the season has in store for us.”


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