NBA Mailbag: Owners applaud Warriors complaints over tax bill

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Al Horford, Celtics

Welcome to the first of what will be a regular NBA mailbag feature here at Heavy Sports.

Insider Steve Bulpett will answer your questions — those regarding current league issues and even some offbeat perspectives and opinions from his 37 years of NBA coverage. (Want to know which former league city he misses the most? Want to know about the Celtics’ first-ever trip to Sacramento?)

We will try to cover everything here in the Heavy mailbag.

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Warriors define Al Horford’s master plan and future with Celtics

We’ve heard a lot about rival owners mad at Joe Lacob for the amount the Warriors are spending on payroll and luxury tax, but we also know some owners are very competitive. After the Warriors won another title with a monster payroll and tax, do you think more owners might be willing to go deeper into the luxury tax if they think a title is within reach? —Nate D., Rochester, NY

I don’t know how many teams are more driven by proximity to a championship than what they believe to be good financial practices, but there’s certainly evidence in the former when it comes to the Celtics. After watching the end result closely to avoid the hefty repeat tax, the Celts got within two wins of the 2022 title and opened their wallets (and their tax bill, which will hit around $50 million when the list will be completed) this offseason with the goal of reaching their 18th banner.

With no real prohibitive favorites at the top of each conference, teams are incentivized to spend what it takes to stay competitive and outperform the pack. But those decisions will come down to judgment by each club’s basketball operations staff — and then the owner who will review the results and choose whether to greenlight the investment. Some will be more willing than others.

I think the most interesting point here is what you allude to in your first sentence. Indeed, some owners might be angry with the Warriors and other tax teams for spending so much and potentially tipping the balance of power on the pitch. But I can say directly that owners who are paying the high fees now and have done so in the past are perhaps even more upset with those teams who accept payments from the tax pool and don’t reinvest them into their own payroll – then complain about those who spend above the ceiling.

One owner told me he wanted the NBA to require teams to put that money back on their rosters to help grow the league. “They shouldn’t just pocket the money,” he said.

I was discussing a critical peer with another of the taxpayer owners, who replied bluntly, “He didn’t complain when he cashed our check.”

Will Al Horford stay in Boston for the rest of his career? — Jack S., Boston

Some answers:

  1. He should.
  2. It really depends on health and how long Al wants to play.

Horford really didn’t want to leave Boston the first time around, but Kyrie Irving was leaving (in an interview before the start of the 2019-20 season, Al told me he would have seen things differently if he had knew Kemba Walker was coming) and there was uncertainty with the Celtics.

Horford was expected to opt out of his contract last year and sign for a longer term with Boston. But when Philadelphia stepped in with big money, the chance to play alongside Joel Embiid and a seemingly tremendous opportunity to compete for a title, he moved on. Horford didn’t like getting beat on the inside, and the idea that Embiid would draw the biggest opponents was appealing.

Things obviously didn’t work out there, and after what was essentially a sabbatical at Oklahoma City, Horford returned to Boston and played a vital role in the Celts’ run to the Finals.

At 36, long-term career projections are insane. But as he enters the final year of his current contract, we have to believe that, as long as the salary desires are reasonable, the Celtics would like to have him.


Bulls need more to wrestle with and Miami running out of options

Any chance the Bulls move before the start of the season? — Ryan S., North Carolina

The Bulls never really had a chance to see what their best rotation could do for a consistent playoff streak, but looking at where they are now compared to the clubs that should be at the top of the Eastern Conference, it’s hard to see them being a contender for the finals if he doesn’t budge. You have to think they recognize it and will try to do something about it.

Do the Heat have enough to reach the finals as they are? If they can’t get Donovan Mitchell or Durant, what are their options? — Gina C, California

From what I keep hearing, Miami is trying to make a meaningful move, but it may have to get creative with involving one or more additional teams to execute the deal(s) it wants.

The Heat’s party line is that they’re happy with the team they have, and it’s hard to argue with that too much. Miami had, after all, the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, and it went to Game 7 of the Conference Finals before losing to Boston. And while losing PJ Tucker (to Philadelphia as a free agent) will hurt, having Victor Oladipo ready to go early on (he only played last March) could be a major boost.

If the Heat can’t get Durant or Mitchell, it’s hard to see another great player on the horizon. But with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and the rest, a little more size might be enough to keep them in the discussion.

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