HOUSTON — On July 4, Al Horford opened free agency by meeting with four teams at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta.
The Rockets were first, followed by the Wizards, Pistons, and Celtics. He had also met with his former team, the Hawks, prior to that. Houston’s delegation included All-Star guard James Harden.
“I thought we had a chance,” Harden said on Monday. “I thought we had a really good chance, but obviously it didn’t work out, which is fine.”
Horford, of course, ultimately signed a four-year, $113 million contract with the Celtics, whose deep delegation in Atlanta included co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, coach Brad Stevens, and players Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Thomas, and Jae Crowder.
But, Horford said, the Rockets were not far behind.
“I really considered coming here as well,” he said of Houston. “Them and Boston and Washington, but especially here and Boston, were probably the two teams I was really, really looking at. So, just a lot to consider. A really good team, but at the end of the day I just felt like I was better off being in Boston.”
Horford and his agent, Jason Glushon, both made it clear that Horford’s primary focus was finding a team capable of winning, and eventually winning big. A roster led by Harden, one of the NBA’s top five players, would fit that hope.
The Rockets beat the Celtics, 107-106, Monday night to improve to 14-7. Harden poured in 37 points.
“He’s just a great player,” Horford said of Harden. “They have a great organization here and I was very impressed with them . . . I just think overall I had a better fit with the Celtics, with our depth here and coach and just everything. There’s just a lot of things that went into my decision.
Stars in tune
Harden and Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas are among the top 10 scorers in the NBA, and both are lefthanded, so Harden has a greater appreciation for what Thomas has accomplished.
“Lefties are just weird,” Harden said, smiling. “We’re just weirdos.”
Harden said that “crafty” lefthanders like himself and Thomas can still catch defenders off guard, even at this level.
“He’s just in attack mode, man. Attack mode,” Harden said of Thomas.
“He’s so aggressive. Obviously he can shoot the ball at a high level, but he’s just getting into the paint and he’s creating opportunities for his teammates.
“He just looks more comfortable. I think any player who’s comfortable out there on the court is going to play a lot better. So the ball is in his hands and he’s making the plays.”
That description fits Harden, too. He has become Houston’s primary playmaker under coach Mike D’Antoni. And he entered Monday’s game averaging 11.8 assists per game, tops in the NBA.
“With their spacing and his ability to make either the play himself or the right read to the big rolling, or one of the many good shooters around, it’s a perfect setup for him and his skill set,” Stevens said. “They’ve done a great job. In addition to playing at a high pace and playing really well, they’ve done a great job of putting the right guys around him.”
Harden, for one, has a simpler description of his new role in D’Antoni’s system.
“Coach is just letting me rock out,” he said.
The Celtics on Monday recalled forward Jordan Mickey from the Maine Red Claws of the D-League. He was active against the Rockets in place of James Young, who missed the game because of an illness. In two games with Maine last weekend, Mickey averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks . . . The Celtics conclude this three-game trip Wednesday against the Magic.