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NBA free agent rumors: Why Al Horford should join the Pistons (even though he won't)

Free agency season rarely ever brings big names to the Pistons, but here are some reasons Al Horford might give Detroit a good long look.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, we have less than 48 hours to dream about Al Horford in a Pistons uniform before reality brings us crashing down to earth and he signs with another team (probably the Hawks) during NBA free agency.

But hey, it’s always fun to dream, and even if this scenario doesn’t play out (as it most likely won’t), the Detroit Pistons will be just fine.

So let’s start with a look at the reasons Al Horford would actually leave millions on the table to leave Atlanta and play for another team.

  1. He wants to win a championship. (surprise!)
  2. Atlanta has an aging core with a limited ceiling.
  3. Atlanta forces him to bang it out with opposing centers every night.
  4. Atlanta is reluctant to offer Horford a 5-year contract.

Now let’s look at the reasons he’d choose the Pistons over the Celtics, Wizards, Rockets, Heat or anyone else.

  1. Stability. The Pistons’ core is very young and talented, and their top guys are all under team control for the next several years.
  2. He could slide into a more comfortable slot at PF next to Andre Drummond.
  3. He was born and raised in Michigan, and probably rooted for the 2004 champs while a senior at Grand Ledge.
  4. The Eastern Conference is wide open (compared to the West), and he'll have a chance to contend with LeBron's Cavs for Eastern supremacy.

[UPDATE: Thanks to a tip on Twitter, I discovered that not only was Al Horford previously represented by vice chairman of Palace Sports & Entertainment Arn Tellem, but Tellem actually negotiated Horford's last contract (5 years, $60 million) with the Hawks. While that won't get Horford to Detroit, it should at least get him to answer SVG's call.]

Nos. 1 and 2 on that list open the door and get Horford’s attention. Nos. 3 and 4 are what could sway him to choose Detroit over other teams in similar positions (i.e. playoff teams with young talent).

  • The Wizards have John Wall, Bradley Beal and a very thin front court. And they’re not getting Kevin Durant.
  • The Rockets are losing Dwight Howard, which would put Horford as the center on a team that would have to fight the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers and Thunder to reach the NBA Finals. Good luck.
  • The Heat might be losing Dwyane Wade. Chris Bosh might be done. Hassan Whiteside might leave town. They’re old and broken.
  • The Celtics actually look like a good fit for Horford… maybe even as good as the Pistons. But if it’s 50/50, I could see the hometown connection winning out.
  • Could the Spurs swing in and sign him? Maybe. But he’d still be playing center with Aldridge at PF.
  • The Lakers? Same problem as the Rockets. Good luck getting to the finals before your 4-year contract is up.

My guess is that Al Horford is familiar enough with the Pistons to know that joining their starting lineup will put them in the top 3-4 teams in the East (I personally think it’d put them right behind the Cavs immediately), and their position should only improve throughout his contract as their young core matures.

That’s all the optimism I can muster.

I know there are a lot of factors in play to which none of us are privy. No one really knows Al Horford’s true priorities at this point. And in spite of all the very good reasons he could should choose Detroit, it’s going to be very difficult to leave all that extra cash on the table when this will likely be his last big contract.

[UPDATE: And then this happened...]

Within the above story:

"The Hawks are reluctant to offer Horford the fifth year only they can dangle, and if they hold firm, they are at grave risk of losing him for nothing, per league sources. (Watch out for the Pistons on Horford; with Wednesday's trade of Meeks, they are one tiny move away from being able to fit his max. They are working to schedule a meeting with Horford over the first 48 hours of free agency, sources say."

Well, now that changes things a bit. If the Hawks won't offer him a 5th year, the difference in salary (7.5% raises vs. 4.5% with a new team) becomes perhaps less significant to Horford than finding the right fit.

Estimates are that Horford could command nearly $25 million/year (and maybe $29 million/year with the Hawks), which means SVG would have to clear another $4 million from the current roster. If that means saying goodbye to Joel Anthony and another player or two who are out of the rotation, fine. But it won't leave them any wiggle room to find that backup PG without trading a key piece (I'm looking at you, Aron Baynes).

I fully expect(ed) Horford to re-sign with the Hawks for the 5-year max (before reading Zach Lowe's report). I pray he doesn't sign with the Celtics, which I consider to be the worst-case scenario for the Pistons. But if he goes anywhere else, I think we’ll all get over it quite quickly as Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower shift their focus to acquiring the PG and PF that will bolster the bench and propel this team to the upper-echelon of the Eastern Conference anyway.

Like last summer, it probably won’t be sexy. All the cool kids will sign elsewhere.

And the Pistons will be sitting pretty nonetheless. Probably having signed a couple solid players that no one had on their radar.

ESPN will give them a C on their free agency additions because they didn’t sign Ryan Anderson.

And Pistons fans will be laughing all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Even without Big Al.