To say that last season was a disappointment for Al Horford would be a huge understatement. After three successful seasons as a member of the Boston Celtics, Horford surprised the basketball world by signing a four-year, $97 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers last off-season. The Sixers had just been eliminated by a clutch buzzer-beater in Game 7 against the Toronto Raptors at the hands of Kawhi Leonard. If that shot hadn’t gone in, the game would’ve gone to overtime. Fans could argue that Leonard’s shot was the difference between their early exit and the NBA championship. Fast forward to 2020, Horford is traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sixers’ fans saw Horford’s signing as the missing link between a contending and championship team. Head Coach Brett Brown thought playing Horford next to Joel Embiid would provide space for the big man to knock down perimeter jump shots. This theory proved to be wrong. Horford had little to no experience as a power forward and needed to play center to be most effective. The Sixers were underwhelming throughout the regular season. In the playoffs, Horford’s former team, the Celtics, swept the Sixers.
Injuries to key players such as Ben Simmons certainly played a factor, but the Al Horford experiment in Philadelphia was a one-season disappointment. Having recently been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, he remains a knowledgeable veteran with deep playoff experience. Here are the questions Thunder fans should be asking themselves about acquiring Horford’s services heading into next season.
Al Horford Must Adjust to Playing for a Team Without Championship Aspirations
In 2018, the Celtics went up three-games-to-two against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. They were one win away from going to the NBA Finals. Then LeBron James happened. The Celtics went on to lose the next two games but expectations remained high in Boston. Even when Horford switched teams before the 2020 season, he went to a Philadelphia organization that saw themselves as title contenders.
However, no one in Oklahoma City thinks they are ready to compete for a championship next season; it was a surprise that they made the playoffs last year. At 34-years-old, going to a franchise without championship aspirations is a disappointment for Horford. Over the years, other players have always raved about what a great teammate he is. He will need to keep that approach as he heads into unfamiliar territory and a less than ideal situation for an aging veteran.
Short Offseason and the 34-year-old Horford’s Body
The stoppage of play in March was an unprecedented event in NBA history. The league admirably restarted and completed its season, culminating with the Finals in October. However, the unique set of circumstances left players with much less rest than they would normally get.
Horford is 34-years old and heading into his 14th season in the league. Even a player known to take great care of his body will feel the effects of a shortened turnaround. In 2012, a torn left pectoral muscle kept Horford out of all but 11 games for the Atlanta Hawks. Another injury shortened Horford’s season in 2014. A complete tear of his right pectoral muscle kept him out of all but 29 games. This offseason, Oklahoma City lost both Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel. This means that Horford is the team’s best option at center and will have to log hefty minutes. Given his injury history, Thunder fans will be eager to see how the veteran center’s body responds with less preparation time.
How will Horford Mesh with Oklahoma City Thunder first-year head coach Mark Daigneault
In 2015, the Hawks had their best regular season in franchise history with 60 wins. The man at the helm was Mike Budenholzer. Budenholzer hailed from the Greg Popovich coaching tree and was groomed for the opportunity. Under his guidance, several Hawks’ players, including Horford, made the Eastern Conference All-Star team and reached the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
When Horford joined the Celtics, the team had a young but proven head coach in Brad Stevens. His combined track record of NCAA and NBA experience gave him command of the locker room. Horford enjoyed individual and team success during his time in Boston as he was once again named an All-Star and took them to the Conference Finals. Even during his one-year pit stop in Philadelphia, the team’s head coach helped guide the organization through “The Process” before Horford’s arrival.
In Oklahoma City, Horford will be playing for a first-year head coach in Mark Daigneault, who is less than a year older than him. Adjusting to a new set of ideas can be difficult for a veteran set in his ways. His approach to being coached by the young first-timer could have a domino effect in the locker room. Given Horford’s reputation as the ultimate team player, Thunder fans should have nothing to worry about.
What are the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Long Term Plans for Horford
In the summer of 2019, Horford signed a four-year contract worth up to $109 million. At the time, the 76ers thought they were adding the missing piece to the puzzle of a championship team. Now, however, Horford finds himself on an Oklahoma City Thunder team that is clearly in the rebuilding process. Will Horford be happy on a team most pundits don’t expect to make the playoffs in his 14th season? Or was adding Horford a ploy to compile assets to send to trade for a franchise-changing player?
These questions must be answered by the Thunder’s front office to get a clear picture as to how to best use Horford. In his prime, he was one of the best centers in the Eastern Conference and the type of team-first player any coach would be glad to have on his roster. Although the situation in Oklahoma City is unfamiliar territory for the veteran big man, his track record leaves little doubt he’ll be anything but the consummate professional. Anyone in their 14th season would love to compete for a championship, Unfortunately, things don’t work out that way. With the organization undergoing a rebuild, it’s unclear what the team’s immediate future holds. However, Thunder fans can rest assured that no matter the circumstances, they’ll get Horford’s best effort night in and night out.
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