CHICAGO — Count Bulls guard Dwyane Wade and coach Fred Hoiberg as fans of Al Horford, as the two had nothing but kudos for the Celtics' major free agent signing before the teams faced off Thursday night at the United Center.
Horford could help the Celtics become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and his impact already is being noticed from the outside.
"Great move, great move for them," Wade said. "Obviously they've been making steps every year. We in Miami, we had a tough time beating them, a very tough team. And then you add a veteran guy, bringing playoff experience, very versatile. It's kind of like he fits perfect with their style of play, very unselfish team, guys doing multiple things. Danny Ainge and those guys did a great job finding the right fit for them and bringing him in."
In 25 games against the Bulls entering Thursday, Horford was averaging 15.4 points and 9 rebounds, and shooting 57.4 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from the 3-point line. He finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in a loss on Thursday.
"He's a really good, versatile player," Hoiberg said. "He can obviously knock down the three. He's a very efficient player. He can get the ball in the paint. He can make plays. He's a great pump-fake guy. When he beats you, he generally does a good job making the right decision, whether he gets to the rim for a shot, whether he pulls up for a shot. He's a load out there, he's an excellent basketball player. He's an All-Star and we've got to try to do a good job on him."
Thursday night was also the first regular-season game as teammates for Wade and ex-Celtic Rajon Rondo.
Those two battled for years as the Heat and Celtics struggled for Eastern Conference supremacy, and the two literally tangled during Game 3 of the 2011-12 Eastern Conference finals, with Rondo dislocating his left elbow and being far from 100 percent the rest of the series.
Rondo then responded with a flagrant foul against Wade in the season opener between the Celtics and Heat in 2012-13, with Wade calling it a "punk play." The two long ago mended fences and Wade said he is grateful to have Rondo as a teammate.
"I never envisioned it. We had battles, but I had battles with a lot of guys," Wade said. "When the opportunity presented itself, you always want to play with people that you respect, people that are competitors, you know what they are going to bring on a nightly basis. Obviously it was big for Jimmy [Butler] to reach out and want me here, but Rondo signing here was also another eye opener for me as well. In this league, you never know what's going to happen."
Wade signing with the Bulls after 13 seasons with the Heat was perhaps the most stunning transaction of the summer. The Chicago native said he was excited to begin his Bulls tenure Thursday night, playing in front of several family members.
"I had a lot of family that didn't even show up to the preseason games, they didn't want to hear my name called yet," Wade said. "Tonight will be pretty special from the standpoint for me and my family. My family all gets to be here and hear my name being called. And I just want to come out and win a ballgame, figure out a way against a good team, and get a win to start this thing off right."
Hunter in town
The Bulls' signing of former Celtics guard R.J. Hunter may be the worst-kept secret in the NBA, though the Bulls are reluctant to announce it. Hunter, 23, was at the team's practice facility on Thursday taking a physical.
Hoiberg said before tip-off he may have an announcement after the game. Regardless, Hunter is expected to join the Bulls this weekend. Of the 450 NBA roster spots, 449 were filled, with the Bulls being the lone team to break camp with 14 players. So a roster move wouldn't be necessary to sign Hunter to a one-year deal.
"I haven't seen him. I texted him, he texted back," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "I'm not surprised he was picked up. I said the other day we had more than 15 NBA players, so it was just a matter of time who he was going to get picked up by. So, it was good that he did."
Said Hoiberg: "We feel that we've got some shooting with this team, but you can never have enough, I'll say that. If we can get our playmakers into the paint and be able to spray out to guys who can spread the floor, that's obviously something that can help our team. If we can get some guys who can knock down shots, we can have an effective year."
Rondo caught up with his former Celtics teammates before the game, including Gerald Green, who rejoined the Celtics this season. Rondo and Green were teammates during the 2006-07 season in Boston. Rondo also exchanged pleasantries with Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo, who helped him rehabilitate after several injuries over the years . . . As expected, Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart remained on the inactive list for the Celtics. For Chicago, second-year guard Jerian Grant, who enjoyed some success against the Celtics as a rookie, was inactive.