Celtics encouraged by meeting with free agent Al Horford

ByChris Forsberg ESPN logo
Saturday, July 2, 2016

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics will make their pitch to free-agent superstar Kevin Durant on Saturday evening, but their warm-up appears to have gone well.

The Celtics emerged encouraged after meeting with free-agent forward Al Horford on Friday night, a league source confirmed. The Vertical reported Saturday that the Celtics and Wizards have emerged as front-runners for Horford, while the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Horford has informed the Hawks that he will make a decision about his future by Saturday evening.

That could be ideal timing for the Celtics, whose presentation to Durant would be a bit more intriguing with Horford in the fold.

The Celtics are considered a long shot in the Durant sweepstakes because they are not an obvious title contender such as the Thunder, Clippers and Spurs, who have already met with Durant this week.

Boston's pitch is expected to detail to Durant the reasons why the Celtics' future might be brighter than those other teams. Boston has the cap room to sign two max-contract free agents -- like Durant and Horford -- without having to trim salary. Boston has roughly $55 million in cap space and will not have to disrupt its young core to create room to add more talent.

Boston won 48 games last season and competed for a top spot in the East. One ESPN Insider model suggested that the Celtics would project at 62 wins by adding Durant. Adding both Durant and Horford would elevate Boston to immediate contender.

Adding Horford alone would make Boston a more intriguing team in the East. The Celtics have been eliminated from the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons, and All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas has said that the team needs more established talent to make the jump to legitimate contender.

Thomas is part of Boston's recruiting contingent during the Horford and Durant visits. Thomas has been in touch with both players via text message trying to sell them on Boston and has hinted that Horford in particular is interested.

"I just reached out to [Horford]," Thomas told reporters on Thursday. "I got his number and reached out to him saying, 'I'm interested in playing with you. I just want to put that in your ear. I know the Celtics would love if you came and are a part of the organization. Good luck with the process.' And things like that. And then he texted me back, he said, 'I'm a fan of how you guys play. I'm a fan of your game and would love the opportunity, but we'll see what happens.' The time is crazy for those type of guys right now so you never know what would happen, but guys know about Boston. Guys are definitely talking Boston. And that's a good thing."