July 19, 2019
There's never any love lost between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. The two Eastern Conference rivals will do whatever they can to undermine each other. That's how it's always been and always will be.
Take the night of the NBA draft, when the Celtics forced the Sixers' hand in a swap of picks that ensured Philly would land Matisse Thybulle. The Sixers had telegraphed the pick throughout the draft process and the Celtics exploited Philadelphia's front office, securing the picks that became Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards.
The Sixers didn't whine about this — they made their own bed — but Boston is apparently now stooping to a whole new level of pettiness and hypocrisy over the Sixers signing away veteran Al Horford.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst reports that the Celtics feel the Sixers tampered with Horford:
The Celtics were, from what I am told, one of the teams that kind of stomped their feet about what they felt was tampering. Not with Kyrie (Irving), although that looked like it was lined up pretty far in advance. But with Horford. What happened with Horford – again, from what I am told – really upset the Celtics, that they were thinking they were going to be able to negotiate with him, talk to him about a new contract, and all of a sudden, it was like he already knew what his market was and was out of there.
Before a June 18 deadline, Horford declined his $30,123,015 player option to remain in Boston under the belief that several NBA teams would offer him a four-year deal in the range of $100 million. The Sixers were rumored to be among those teams, all of whom could have collectively formed Horford's market.
Within a few hours of the start of free agency on June 30, the Sixers signed Horford to a four-year, $109 million deal with $97 million in guaranteed money. This was in the midst of juggling the signing of Tobias Harris and determining what was going to happen with Jimmy Butler. Moments after Butler was traded to Miami, the Horford deal was announced.
The irony of Boston's reported frustration is that it seems clear the Celtics did much the same thing in signing Kemba Walker, who had been strongly linked to them several days before free agency began. Walker effectively told his former team, the Hornets, that he planned to sign elsewhere. While Horford may not have done so, the consensus seemed to be that he wasn't returning to Boston.
Unless or until the NBA takes a harder stance on tampering, especially in the crowded context of free agency, it's silly to complain about a rule whose lack of enforcement gives every team the opportunity to line up its plans and contingencies.
If Horford had signed anywhere other than Philadelphia, it's doubtful this grumbling would have made its way to Windhorst. Horford was gracious in thanking the Celtics organization and Boston fans when he left, but you have to believe he chose Philly at least in part to stick it to his former team.