Kevin Garnett was 31 when the Boston Celtics acquired him in the summer of 2007, and 32 when they won Banner 17 the following June. By the time Danny Ainge had persuaded Kevin McHale that Garnett would benefit from a change in scenery, the Big Ticket had already logged 12 NBA seasons’ worth of minutes. In only one of those seasons did the Ticket play less than 76 regular season games, and typically he was relied on to play heavy minutes in those games. The wear and tear took its toll the very next season after he joined the Celtics, when KG suffered a season-ending knee injury that also ended his career as a dominant player, most noticeably on the glass.
Al Horford, by contrast, is 30-years-old, and, barring a trip to the NBA Finals, Horford will remain this age throughout the 2016-17 campaign. Horford has only played nine seasons in the NBA, twice logging less than 30 games during the year. So while Tito's son joins the green with much less fanfare than Garnett, he also joins with much less wear and tear on his body. Thus, the fact that he's locked up for three years is potentially significant.
Short of being a 7-1 behemoth who can single-handedly dominate individual games for long stretches, takeover in crunch time, or make a viable run for MVP, Horford gives you everything you might want from a power position on a Brad Stevens coached team. A pass-first, team-oriented big, Horford can consistently drain mid-range jumpers and occasionally step beyond the arc to stretch the defense and keep it honest. He'll also provide a vocal anchor for the defense the Celtics haven't seen since KG was dealt to the Nets. As for shot-blocking, he won't lead the league, but at the same time it is safe to say teams will be aware when Horford is in the game and roaming the paint on D.
The Horford addition by itself makes the Celtics a much better team, and barring injuries to key players, that is exactly what the Celtics will be. Because the Beantown Bunch overachieved last year with 48 wins, fans should be wary of predicting more than 51 wins or so this year. How good the Celtics are this year really depends less on Horford than it does on the supporting cast. Players like Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown must perform above and beyond expectations for the Celtics to have a realistic chance of advancing in the playoffs as anything other than a gnat the Cavaliers swat without much effort.
In the NBA improvement at one spot makes a difference. Improvement at more than two positions on an already good team is what might help the Celtics surpass the expectations of pundits and Vegas oddsmakers. Throw in a timely mid-season deal or two for another big and a shooter, and it’s entirely possible that a run for Banner 18 could happen sooner than later. Without any meaningful mid-season upgrades, the team is likely to come up short in their desire to add to the tapestry in the rafters. Regardless of how the season ends, however, the Celtics perimeter defense is likely to keep things interesting for 82 games and beyond.