While Joe Johnson's free agency was the biggest headline of the summer, Al Horford's contract status would have to rank number two and should probably have been talked about a lot more than it has to date. It appears now that the Hawks are poised to offer Horford a contract before the October 31st deadline that would lock him in for the near future with the Hawks. Priority one is to get Horford signed but should the Hawks offer him a contract now or wait and let the market dictate the price in restricted free agency? Is Al Horford worth a max contract? If he is not, then what is he worth to the Hawks?
It is a simple question, but the answer could be elusive. Horford averaged 14.2 points per game last year and 9.9 rebounds a game narrowly missing out on averaging a double double. He was highly efficient shooting 55% from the field and 78% from the line. He also made his first all star game appearance and in some rankings is already a top 5 Center in the league even though he himself thinks he is really a power forward. He is a high character guy that is a more than capable defender as well.
For those that is unfamiliar with the way restricted and unrestricted free agency works, the Hawks have until October 31st to work out a long term extension with Al Horford. If they fail to reach an agreement by the deadline then Horford would become a restricted free agent which would give him the ability to negotiate with any team but gives the Hawks the right to match any offer. For those that remember, the Hawks let Josh Smith seek the best offer in restricted free agency which came from Memphis and the Hawks quickly matched what has turned out to be a very affordable contract for a player like Smith and his many talents.
More after the jump******
Sekou Smith reported Monday on his Hang Time Blog that Al Horford will receive a near max offer before the October 31st deadline. The Hawks probably have a pretty good gauge on the kinds of offers that Horford would likely receive from other teams next summer and it is likely that they would like to sign him on their terms instead of someone else's. A player like Horford, that is only 24 years old and is playing the center position in all likely hood would garner a max offer from some team next season. If that is the case then the Hawks would be smart in being proactive.
The X-Factor in all of this is the looming CBA negotiations and potential lock out. Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie discussed the benefits of letting Horford test the market. While that has been my thinking the entire time there may be some benefits for not going that route. Number One is the possibility that some team might throw an offer at Horford that the Hawks might not want to match. Typically in restricted free agency teams will front load a lot of offers to try and discourage a team from matching. Keep in mind that the Hawks just gave a huge contract to Joe Johnson so that makes it even more important for the team to try and get Horford signed to a team friendly deal.
Second there is the CBA negotiations this summer. Horford's camp, much like Jamal Crawford's, would no doubt like to get something done before the current CBA expires. That might not even be a bad thing for ownership because a lot of big money contracts were handed out this summer with the thinking that there is going to be a lockout next season. Also there is the possibility that the new CBA could have some effect on contracts that have already been signed.
Hawks beat writer Michael Cunningham weighed in today as well and raises some good points about the positives to extending Horford without letting him hit free agency:
Signing Horford to an extension now would provide cost certainty. It also would provide security for Al, who would get a big-money deal without doing the RFA song-and-dance.
The potential risk for the Hawks in skipping the extension and letting the market dictate Al’s worth is he might become disgruntled. But I doubt that would happen, as Al seemed to understand it’s just business
The Hawks have been viewed as an organization that has been operated on the cheap. It is hard to argue that assumption when you see moves like Jason Collins signing this season and Mario West's signing last season. However, with Johnson's signing and a potential Horford signing could they be portraying to the league and other free agents that the Hawks are more than willing to take care of their own? Case in point is that Bibby, Johnson, Marvin, and potentially Horford will all have signed extensions. Josh Smith did as well but he had to go the restricted free agency route but he still got his deal in the end. Perhaps it is somewhat about changing perception as well.
Cunningham also points out in his piece that the Hawks could offer Horford a five year deal that is worth up to 82 million dollars. In being proactive and offering him an extension I would expect a five year offer at slightly less than the max but still more than is likely to come Horford's way after the CBA is renegotiated. This bodes the question is Horford worth that much money? I would say yes he is worth it and I don't mind extending a hardworking guy like Horford who is already a very good player and probably hasn't hit his ceiling yet. In my mind Al will quickly accept any extension that comes close to the max particularly one that comes on the eve of what could be one nasty battle in negotiations for a new CBA.
Horford's extension would spell doom for Jamal Crawford's extension demand but I have never thought that the Hawks would be offering Crawford another contract in the first place. That isn't a slight at him or any of his accomplishments while in Atlanta. It is just that the team is committed to another shooting guard and really can't afford to go any deeper at that position.
Exit Question: Hawks fans are you comfortable giving Al Horford a max extension before the deadline? Or should the Hawks go the route Kelly Dwyer suggests and the route that they went with Josh Smith which is to let the market dictate the asking price?