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Why Al Horford Will Play With a Chip on His Shoulder

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

When Al Horford agreed to a four-year, $113 million dollar max contract last offseason, it’s safe to say everyone had high hopes which were seemingly left neglected.

A lackluster opening season is unquestionably a disappointment for Horford and Boston Celtics fans alike.

This is not to say that the big man was valueless by any means. Putting up a career-high in assists (5.0) was a colossal lift for Boston as their system commends playing unselfish ball, and getting your PF/C involved in the passing game is imperative if you plan on playing position-less basketball.

The University of Florida product was also successful with the intangibles by being a veteran leader and attaining a strong work ethic to the floor night in and night out.

Regrettably, the four-time All-Star was simply unable to meet expectations from a stat sheet perspective. He put up career-lows in points (14.0), field goal percentage (47.3), rebounds (6.8) and rebound percentage (11.8). His true shooting percentage (55.3) was the lowest since his rookie campaign. Excelling in explicitly intangibles won’t win games when you are the teams primary big man, and to be brutally honest their only option.

Last season, Boston’s other options at the 4 and 5 were Amir Johnson, Jordan Mickey, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. While all decent role players, there is no excuse as to why Horford didn’t absolutely shine. Admittedly, Brad Stevens’ system relies heavily on sturdy guard play and tends on settling for early shots and working the rock around the perimeter which can discourage getting players such as Horford involved in the scoring game.

Nevertheless, when surrounded by purely C+ – D+ counterparts at your position, taking over and at least achieving high averages in the rebounding category is crucial.

When considering the signing of Gordon Hayward, the pressure is suddenly on for him to step his game. If there’s one thing athletes know about Boston fans, it’s that while they are the most loyal on the planet, they are ruthless if not pleased.

On Oct. 17, Hayward will have his first opportunity to exhibit his value when Boston visits the Cleveland Cavaliers in an Eastern Conference Finals rematch. Assuming he plays well throughout the season, tensions will rise between Horford and the crowd.

Furthermore, when paired with a revamped front court, Al has the experience with Boston to provide aid with raising his numbers, therefore becoming more valuable and finalizing a deadly big three that could finally threaten LeBron’s chance at taking the East.

Should the former Utah Jazz standout continue his outstanding play from last season, Horford being on the trade block is instantaneously complicated.

Let’s begin by breaking down the three possibilities and how they would play out for the front office:

1. Al’s play remains about the same from last season

It would be virtually impossible to find a taker on his contract while averaging 14, six, and five unless Danny Ainge gets absolutely robbed ,which simply does not happen. Fans may be crestfallen, but he would remain as the main attraction as a big who doesn’t live up to par but is still a solid player.

2. Al’s play improves, increasing his trade value

This is a situation where more teams would be likely to take on him and that hefty contract in a trade, it wouldn’t happen anyways. Again, his veteran knowledge and hard work are valuable, which when paired with some great play makes a player nearly irreplaceable.

3. Al’s play declines, leaving everyone confused

While this would be devastating for all parties involved, it is one to discuss. Boston is left with the bad end of a max contract for the next few years and trading him would be out of the question.

Overall, improvement is a must out of the 6-foot-10 stretch four, primarily if the Celtic’s want any chance at overthrowing Lebron and the rest of the Cavaliers. Excitement for the upcoming year of NBA action is rising across the board, and Horford remains as one of Boston’s biggest (pun intended) question marks.

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