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Al Horford on return to Celtics: I’m really grateful to be back

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Boston acquired Horford and Moses Brown for Kemba Walker and the 16th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Al Horford called his return to the Boston Celtics “surreal” several times at his (re?) introductory press conference on Thursday. In Brad Stevens’ first transaction as Celtics President of Basketball Operations, Boston acquired Horford, Moses Brown and a 2023 second-round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kemba Walker, the 16th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and a 2025 second-round pick.

Horford expressed his gratefulness for the trade that brought him back to Boston, saying “First of all, I’m really, really happy to be back. I really appreciate how special of a place Boston is. Being away, I know how special the city is and how special the team is to the city.”

Horford mentioned that when he left for the Philadelphia 76ers during 2019 free agency, the Celtics were coming off a disappointing season. He said he didn’t expect to get the opportunity to return to Boston, but that he now has a “fresh start”.

In talking about how things are different this time around, Horford mentioned his role is to support the team’s young players. He said his job is to ask “What can I do? What is my purpose?” in helping the team win.

Over the last two seasons, while with the Sixers and the Thunder, Horford said he learned to “reappreciated the game”, while embracing his role as a veteran leader.

One player Horford was asked about mentoring in particular is Celtics big man Robert Williams. Horford’s a fan of the young big, saying “I was really impressed with his improvement this year. Seeing him grow and the things he can do, and seeing him really understand the game. It’s refreshing to see his progression. He’s going to continue to get better. I’m going to be in his ear.”

Horford said that Williams and Jayson Tatum were two of the many former and new teammates who reached out to him when news of the trade broke. Horford said “It was great to have that. It was an exciting time for me to go through all that. Right away, I’m thinking ahead about everything we need to do.”

On what needs to be done, Horford’s mind is already focused on the 2021-22 season. He’s already in Boston and said he’s seen several of his teammates at the Auerbach Center (Boston’s practice facility) putting in work. Horford stressed that getting ready for the next season starts now: “We just need to put ourselves in position to be ready physically and mentally. Finally, we’re going to have a normal season. To be the team we want to be, we need to put in the work now.”

As he heads into his 15th season, Horford said that one of the biggest things he’s learned is how important this part of the NBA calendar is to being ready for the upcoming season. Horford thanked the Oklahoma City medical staff for getting him to a great place physically over the past year. He said he feels more physically ready for the 2021-22 season than he usually does during the offseason.

Horford noted that he’ll work with the Celtics coaches and training staff, but that he feels there should be no limitations on him playing back-to-back games in the upcoming season.

As for the coaching staff, Horford expressed his excitement to play for Ime Udoka, who is reported to be Stevens’ choice to replace himself on the Celtics sidelines. Horford was with Udoka in Philadephia for a season, when Udoka was an assistant on Brett Brown’s staff. Horford said about Boston’s new coach: “We had a great relationship. We spent a lot of time talking about defense and coverages and things I feel like work and things he feels like work. I’m excited for what he brings and how he can help our group.”

As for his own game, Horford said he feels he still as the versatility to play both the four and the five, but that he’s no longer married to playing the four: “I feel like I can play multiple positions still, but whatever coach needs me to do. If they need me at the 5, that’s fine. I’m going to do whatever coach needs.”

Horford said when he originally signed with the Celtics in 2016 that “When I left Atlanta, Danny (Ainge) and Brad (Stevens) sold me on the culture and winning banner 18. I embrace that and look forward to getting to work.”

Horford feels like he left Boston with some unfinished business, and that he’s “just happy to come back and finish what I started here.”