After three seasons of increasingly productive play from center Al Horford, the Hawks have decided they want him for the long term.
The feeling is mutual for Horford, who said team officials and his agent, Arn Tellem, have started negotiations on a contract extension.
The Hawks have until Nov. 1 to make a deal with Horford on an extension that begins in 2011-12 and can be lengthened for up to five years and about $82 million under the NBA's current labor agreement. Horford will make $5.4 million in 2010-11, the final year of his rookie-scale contract.
After considering other factors influencing his decision, Horford said he would like to be part of the team's future.
“How do you see yourself with the team?” Horford said. “Do you think the team is going the right way? Obviously, you have to factor in do you like the city you are i? ... All those things favor me because I feel like we are in a good position. We’ve been playing together. This is my fourth year with the team, and I love the city of Atlanta."
If the sides don’t reach an agreement by the deadline, Horford would become a restricted free agent next summer if the Hawks extend a one-year, $7.1 million qualifying offer by June 30. The Hawks consequently would retain the right to match any offer sheets signed by Horford.
Hawks general manager Rick Sund, citing his policy of not speaking publicly about players’ contracts, declined to comment on negotiations with Horford.
The Hawks selected Horford, 24, with the third overall pick in the 2007 draft after he helped lead Florida to two NCAA championships. Eastern Conference coaches voted Horford to his first All-Star team last season, and new Hawks coach Larry Drew recently named Horford as a captain with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith.
Horford, who is undersized for his position by NBA standards at 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, said earlier this summer the Hawks needed to add an impact center to be a true championship contender. The Hawks ended up signing free-agent centers Jason Collins and Etan Thomas to veteran minimum contracts.
However, Horford said he looks forward to Drew’s plan to play him at power forward alongside Zaza Pachulia, Collins or Thomas.
“I think with coach Drew’s new mindset, he plans to play me more at [power forward], which is encouraging to me,” Horford said. “I am happy about that. Obviously I still would like to play center, but if I can spend more time at [power forward], that would be great.”
The Hawks have about $50 million in committed salaries for the 2011-12 season. If they reach an agreement with Horford, it would be the third major contract they've extended in recent years.
The Hawks matched the five-year, $58 million offer sheet that Smith signed with Memphis as a restricted free agent in 2008. In July Atlanta re-signed unrestricted free agent Johnson to a six-year, $123.7 million contract that is the richest in the league.
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