Aw, c’mon. Did it have to be the Sixers, Al?
Cedric Maxwell never would have signed with the Sixers. OK, he absolutely would have had the Sixers offered him a nine-figure contract, but stay with me here.
These are the Sixers of trash-talking front-runner Joel Embiid, and 3-pointer-allergic Ben Simmons, of tormentor Andrew Toney and bruising Moses Malone. The Celtics’ rivalry with the Sixers in the 1980s was even more contentious than the more celebrated Lakers rivalry.
And Al Horford is now one of them, having been enticed to Philly on an irresistible four-year, $109 million contract, including championship incentives.
Embiid’s chief tormentor is now his sidekick, and arguably the most likable player on the Celtics, one who fit the ideal of what a Celtic is supposed be on and off the court, is now trying to help the stinkin’ Sixers hang banners.
It’s understandable and yet hard to take. It makes what should have been a good day — with Kemba Walker arriving and toxic Kyrie Irving beating it for Brooklyn — feel mostly bittersweet.
We can’t fault Horford for taking that offer, which brings him to age 37. After all, three years ago he left Atlanta, the only NBA home he’d ever known, to take the Celtics’ money.
But the Sixers? Ugh.
The Clippers, now that would have been acceptable, even kind of cool, given that there was a chance he would have been joining forces with someone like Kawhi Leonard to ruin the Lakers’ devious plans to catch the Celtics in championship banners over the next couple of years.
It stings a little more, too, because for a brief time Sunday it seemed like there was a chance Horford might return, if Danny Ainge and the Celtics’ front office could pull of some sign-and-trade calculus to clear the space to bring him back.
Don’t know about you, but I’d talked myself into a willingness to give up the enticing future Memphis pick as a trade sweetener to make it happen.
Not a wise thing to do, I know. But bringing in Walker and retaining Horford would have made the Celtics a contender in the East, and everything worth keeping from this lost season would have been salvaged.
Now, they’re going to be an entertaining and likable team again, with Irving gone, but not as likable or entertaining as they would have been had Horford stuck around.
He was a terrific player in so many ways here, and if you need further explanation of this or think Average Al was a clever nickname, you’re not worthy of appreciating him anyway.
Horford will get his tribute video when he returns to the Garden in the wrong uniform, and he deserves it. It’s just too bad it has to be that uniform.
A few other thoughts on Celtics that arrived, departed, and remained during one of the craziest days in NBA history . . .
■ Kyrie Irving: Remember in January, when the Celtics were stuck in one of their recurring tumultuous phases during that drag of a season, and they went into Brooklyn, played like they’d spent the last week partying 22 hours a day in Miami, and fell behind by 27 before ultimately losing by 7?
And remember how Irving made that trip even though he was hurt, an unusual turn given that he couldn’t even bring himself to show up for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals the year before?
And remember how Nets fans trolled the Celtics during that debacle by chanting “Kyrie’s leaving!,” a very hurtful chant to those that wanted him to stay?
Turns out they were right. He may well have known it at the time he was leaving Boston, and there’s a decent chance his ego was basking in their mockery of his team. What a teammate, what a guy.
Irving was a wonderful player. There were times he did things I’d swear I’ve never seen before. But I’ve never seen anything like this destructive exit strategy, either.
It should be hard to say good riddance to such an extraordinary player. It is not, at all. Nets fans are going to love him for a while, and it’s going to be awesome, right up until he reveals his true self. Then Celtics fans will have a we-told-you-so retort of their own.
■ Kemba Walker: What’s not to love? Landing him is one heck of an alternative for Irving, and it helps that he’s already so familiar, going back to his storybook career at UConn. We know he’s a wonderful player who falls closer to Irving than Isaiah Thomas on the ability scale, and I.T. was a marvel here, of course. Walker is going to be a great fit in Brad Stevens’s offense, and he’s a drama-less dude, which feels like a reason to exhale right now and look forward to what’s to come.
■ Terry Rozier: Good for him for getting paid an absolutely ridiculous amount of money (three years, $58 million, fully guaranteed). He was a useful player at times, especially during the Bucks series two years ago. But he also let the Scary Terry stuff go to his head, his irrational self-confidence was part of the problem last year, and let’s not forget that he was 0 for 10 from 3-point range in Game 7 against the Cavaliers two years ago. His moment was fleeting, his loss not a big one.
■ Jayson Tatum: The time is now, kid. No more long twos, no more getting stripped every other drive to the hoop, and no more listening to Kobe. You’re going to get your 20 shots. Make ’em count.
■ Marcus Smart: Walker may become the leader once he’s settled in. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s Smart. He’s the longest-tenured player on the roster, he sets the tone with his intensity, and he cares in all the ways Irving did not. Also, he’s known to shove a Sixer or two, always a good thing.