By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) – Danny Ainge has a plan to recruit Kevin Durant this summer, and one of his main selling points for the All-Star forward appears to be coming into focus.
Marc Stein on ESPN.com is reporting that the Celtics are one of at least eight teams that will be recruiting Hawks center Al Horford when free agency opens on July 1. The Hawks still hope to keep their franchise centerpiece, while the Lakers, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Wizards, and Nets are the squads expecting to be chasing the 30-year-old as well.
The Celtics are the only team on that list that also will have an audience with fellow free agent Kevin Durant next month, according to the Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.
This is an encouraging development for Celtics fans if you believe there is a desire for the pair to play together. ESPN's Zach Lowe said on his podcast back in February that there has been a buzz about Durant's desire to play with Horford.
"I heard from two really powerful guys (in the league) who don't normally BS around -- they said that they have heard that Horford is on the shortlist of guys that Durant would really want to play with," Lowe relayed.
While it's not clear what Durant's top priorities are as he hits the free-agent market for the first time in his career, it's a potential drawing point for Boston that they have the salary cap space to offer both Horford and Durant's max contracts this summer without having to deconstruct key parts of their roster with it.
A starting lineup of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Durant and Horford would easily be the second-best starting lineup in the Eastern Conference and could push the Cleveland Cavaliers with the right secondary moves down the line.
In the meantime, the Celtics still remain a large underdog in the Durant sweepstakes, despite these potential encouraging ties. The question for Boston is whether they will continue to pursue an older core piece like Horford, who could command over $35 million annually in his next contract for four seasons.
Horford's 3-point shooting and defense would be an upgrade to the Celtics roster but that kind of salary commitment could hamper Boston's long-term plans if they aren't accompanied with a star of Durant's caliber.
With just days remaining until the start of free agency, Boston's level of interest in Horford could say a lot about the team's rebuilding blueprint, not just for this summer but down the road as well.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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