CANTON, Mass. — Al Horford might be the Boston Celtics’ most important player right now.
Horford is one of just four players returning from last season’s Celtics team that reached the Eastern Conference finals, joining Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. He’s the only holdover from Boston’s 2016-17 starting lineup. As such, the 31-year-old has taken it upon himself to help the new guys, most notably All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, get acclimated with their new organization.
“We’ve already started with some of that, but just continuing to make sure that all the guys are feeling comfortable with our offensive system, especially on defense the concepts and everything,” Horford said Monday at Celtics Media Day. “For us, it’s just going to be a day-to-day thing, just because there’s a lot to learn, there’s a lot of new guys and we need that in-game experience. With the shortened preseason, it puts a little more pressure on us as well to come together. It’s a process that we’re excited about.”
Horford already has spoken with Hayward about the transition to Boston, both before and after the latter signed with the Celtics in free agency this offseason. He expects to have similar conversations with Irving in time, at which point he’ll likely emphasize the same points.
“Just getting acclimated and used to your surroundings, to the people around you, to the city,” Horford said of his new teammates’ arrival. “And for them, it’s going to be a learning experience that I’ll be there to kind of support them and help them out and to see things certain ways.
“Change can be difficult sometimes. But I feel like not only with myself, but some of the other guys — Marcus and Terry — they’ll be able to help them as well to get acclimated with the team and everything.”
Horford is entering just his second season with the Celtics, so it’s not like he has a ton of experience in head coach Brad Stevens’ system. He’s still one of the veterans on a roster loaded with newcomers, though. And as a four-time All-Star entering his 11th year in the NBA, Horford is well-respected across The Association. Just ask Hayward, who pointed to Horford’s key role in recruiting him to Boston.
“Al’s another huge piece, and Al’s a guy that I called a couple of times, too, going through the (free agency) process,” Hayward said Monday. “He was somebody that I looked at as (being) in a similar situation to what I was in — somebody that spent his whole career with another organization and then had a chance to look at things.
“So I talked to him about that, I talked to him just about making that decision. He’s also somebody in a very similar situation to me with young kids, and what was it going to be like living in Boston — living with some of the challenges that a big city presents, also some of the benefits of a big city.”
On the court, according to Horford, a successful transition for Irving, Hayward and the rest of Boston’s newcomers will be contingent upon hard work and repetition.
“I think it’s just getting comfortable with the concepts that we need to do defensively, and on the offensive end, get the chemistry going,” Horford explained. “You guys are going to hear me say that a lot, but just get that going, feeling comfortable with each other, and once we do that, I think we’ll be in a good place.
“I don’t know how long that’s going to take, but we’re hoping it’s sooner than later.”
Here’s what else Horford had to say about the Celtics’ shiny new toys…
“Man, he’s special. He’s special. Kyrie, I was watching him work out on Tuesday and I was just blown away, because I’ve played against him many years, you see him on the court, you see some of the moves, you’re impressed, you’re like, ‘Yeah, he’s an All-Star player, he’s a really good player.’ But then when you see him work at what he does in practice and how easy he’s able to score the ball and handle and do certain things, it just really blew my mind.
“I don’t think people understand how good of a player he is, and he’s going to showcase that this year. Obviously, he needs time to get acclimated and to catch up to speed with everything that we have, but his ability is unreal. I’ve very intrigued to see how the season is going to develop and everything. He’s going to be great for us.”
“Gordon is a guy who really does it all. He really shoots the ball extremely well, as we know that. But one of the things that’s impressed me about him is his passing ability. He really can pass the ball. He really has size, can play the pick and roll.
“Probably the biggest thing that’s always impressed me about Gordon is his defense. I don’t think people talk about that enough. His ability to block shots from the outside, chase down guys on the break and block shots. People don’t see a lot of his defensive strengths, and I feel like he’s going to make us better in that regard.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images