For Al Horford and the Sixers, the 2019-20 campaign has been a trying season.
After inking Horford to a four-year contract, worth a whopping $109 million last summer, Philly entered the season with high hopes of winning the Eastern Conference. Instead, the Sixers struggled to find their footing, fell out the top-tier of the conference standings, and just weeks before the start of the postseason they received the devastating news of Ben Simmons’ season-ending left knee injury.
With Simmons out, Brett Brown will look for additional production out of Horford – who is coming off one of the weakest seasons of his career – and could be the sparkplug Philly’s been looking for. To offer a closer perspective on the challenges Al, along with the Horford family, faced throughout the year, Anna Horford, the host of Horford Happy Hour, and the veteran big man’s sister, joined the Celtics Lab Podcast Sunday.
The Horford Adjustment
“I think it’s been a really big adjustment for him,” Horford said. “Anytime you join a new team you have to figure out where you fit exactly and you have to figure out the chemistry with your new teammates. If you don’t have things like chemistry, no matter how much talent you have on the team, things can fall apart pretty quickly. I think Philly, in general, as a team, has really struggled to find their groove and to find their chemistry, and Al was just so solid with the Celtics. He had a really great relationship with all the players and, you know, that really, really matters on and off the court.
“I think he is still just getting used to things in Philly and obviously, this season, nothing like this has quite ever happened before with COVID and the bubble, and everything so that doesn’t really help things; with them being off for a couple of months, as well. I don’t think they’ve had the appropriate amount of time to find their groove, which I think has really worked against them.”
On the court, adjusting to an offense that isn’t predicated on him touching the ball on almost every offensive possession was always going to take a lot of getting used to for Horford. Unlike Brad Stevens’ system in Boston, the Sixers offense runs primarily through its All-Stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – which is an adjustment in of itself that was going to be difficult from the start for Horford.
This season, Horford averaged career-lows in points (11.9), field goal percentage (45%), and blocks (0.9) per game. However, Horford brings plenty of playoff experience to the table, and with Simmons out of the picture, fans could see the kind of impact Boston saw from Horford throughout the past three seasons.
“Hopefully, you’ll see more of Al,” Anna added. “I thought that it was a really strange move for Brett Brown to bench Al. He’s never not started ever in his entire career and I understand that they really wanted the bench to have to come in really strongly so they added Al to the bench. I think that there have been some questionable choices on how they’re using him.”
Horford averaged 14.9 points, shot 51.3% from the floor while pulling down 7.9 rebounds throughout his past three postseasons with the Celtics.
“Al is a major playoff player,” Anna added. “He’s never not made the playoffs his entire career and everyone knows that’s when he really shines. So it’s like steady, steady throughout the season but then the playoffs come around and he turns into ‘playoff Al.’
“He’s on a different level, essentially and Philly should know that better than anyone because he gave them a really hard time in the playoffs.”
Off the court, Sixers fans quickly grew impatient from the jump. And things, according to Anna, never really improved.
“I don’t really have the strongest relationship, I suppose, with Philly fans,” Horford laughed. “I think they’re really, really put off by the fact that I don’t publically criticize Boston and I still like to see everyone thrive on that team. I still like tweets about how well the guys are doing and stuff but you can’t really blame me for that, I know them. It was three amazing seasons (in Boston) and the city really embraced our family so I think that they do take that the wrong way and that they would kind of just like to see me drop the Celtics completely.
“But, you know, I’m not going to do that just because a bunch of people that I don’t know wants me to.”
The Celtics’ First Big Signing
Horford will always be remembered as the Celtics’ first significant free-agent signing. For years, the narrative surrounding Boston and its most-storied franchise were that top-tier free agents were never going to want to live or play for Boston.
In 2016, Horford changed that and was quickly embraced by the fans and its city.
“The city, in general, I still go there since Al’s stopped playing (in Boston), I’ve been there a couple of times and I still love the city, I still love the people. I still love the fans and they say the best things to us, still. For this series, I saw someone tweet “Winner of the series gets to keep the Horfords,”” Horford laughed. “That was a Boston fan tweeting, me and my siblings see that and we’re like ‘oh my God, we love you guys so much.’”
Anna says the transition from Boston to Philly felt vastly different.
“I don’t feel like Philly embraced us the same way that Boston did,” Horford said. “Al didn’t come out scoring like 20 points and getting 20 rebounds – which he’s never done – and they were like ‘um, excuse me we paid you a lot of money, you should be doing more’ and it’s like do you understand what type of player he is? I think it’s been challenging for him to fit into this system. I think I tweeted something like ‘you can be one of the best players in the world but if there’s no chemistry and if you’re not being played the right way then you’re not going to see results’ and I think that’s been an issue as well.”
The Celtics and Sixers will kick off Game 1 of their best-of-7 series Monday night.