The extended break has given the Philadelphia 76ers’ prime offseason acquisition time to recharge his batteries.
Al Horford has terrorized the Philadelphia 76ers from inside and outside the organization for years now. Some members of the fanbase still consider him an enemy, which is a difficult label to maintain when you leave the Celtics to join the Sixers. Rarified air.
And yet, despite the immense criticism heaped on Horford this season, his struggles are not entirely his fault. The Sixers lack the personnel and structure to maximize Horford’s skill set. Not only does he make life more difficult for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but the opposite is true as well.
With Embiid and Simmons on the roster, Horford has been effectively removed from the pick-and-roll, ostracized from the post, and has seen his role reduced to arhythmic spot-up shooting. He simply doesn’t fit the Sixers’ team context. And, according to a recent interview with members of the media, he may not have spent the entire season in top shape.
“I probably wasn’t where I wanted to be. I’m not going to make excuses but right now I’m in a much better place. The time off for me was beneficial. And getting to work now, the biggest challenge for us with the season coming back is doing everything at game-intensity level.”
This is significant news, even if it reads more as an excuse than a pressing concern (yes, I’m aware he said “no excuses”). Horford’s demise can most readily be tied to age. He’s 34 and Father Time is an often relentless companion. It’s not difficult to watch Horford play, see the sluggishness of his movement, and deduce that his struggles correlate with age more than any other factor.
Still, it’s important to take Horford at this word. A consummate pro at every turn over the course of his career, Horford has never been one to pull excuses from thin air. He’s not one to shift blame or mislead reporters. He’s a stoic, honest participant in the NBA’s media machine more often than not.
On that note, it’s fair to read into these comments a little bit. Horford is old, and perhaps his physical ailments were because he’s old, but there’s a decent chance three months away from basketball has helped rejuvenate Horford’s tired joints.
The Sixers can still squeeze value out of Horford, even if it’s as a super-powered sixth man behind Joel Embiid. He’s a proven postseason performer and, at his peak, one of the headiest defensive bigs in basketball. The Sixers will face teams like Milwaukee and Toronto if things go well in the postseason. Those matchups were a primary motivator in the Sixers’ signing of Horford.
We still have about 20 days until our first glimpse of Horford in post-hiatus action. Until then, it’s up to the individual to determine how much he or she trusts his comments.