Vivlamore reporting. Here is my story on Al Horford for the Thursday print edition of the AJC.
It turns out there are parts of the world where news doesn’t travel at the speed of Twitter.
During much of the Hawks’ busy offseason, Al Horford trained with the Dominican Republic National team. The center was in South America for a three-week stint – during which the Hawks traded six-time All-Star Joe Johnson and former first-round pick Marvin Williams in separate deals. Horford was without the internet and had to rely on phone calls from his father, Tito, for one shocking update after another.
In addition, Horford’s name was often mentioned in rumors as the Hawks were one team interested in trading for Dwight Howard.
“For me it was a good time to be away from everything,” Horford said.
A healthy Horford is back with his new-look team after being limited to 11 regular-season and three playoff games with a torn left pectoral muscle last season. He will be counted on heavily for his production and leadership during the transition of roster and offensive style.
The two-time All-Star will again start at center, according to coach Larry Drew. However, the coach maintains, there will be times when Zaza Pachulia will start at center and Horford will move to power forward and Josh Smith to small forward. Such a lineup adjustment would help a now-smaller unit after the losses of Johnson and Williams.
“I want to allow myself that type of flexibility again,” Drew said.
Horford said he and Smith are “drooling” over the prospects of playing the more up-tempo offense Drew has in mind with Jeff Teague being joined by Devin Harris and Lou Williams at point guard. The key to the season will be how long it takes all the new players, of which Horford is one of just five returners, to mesh as a unit.
“I know we have a lot of work to do,” Horford said. “We have so many new players. We don’t know how long it’s going to take to gel. Hopefully it’s going to take just the month of October, maybe some of November, for us to start figuring it out.”
Horford averaged 12.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in his limited play last season. The numbers were slightly down from the previous two seasons when Horford was named an Eastern Conference All-Star.
Missing their center, and his less than 100 percent return for the playoffs, many thought the organization would try one more time to chase an NBA title with the Core Four of Horford, Smith, Johnson and Williams. The Hawks didn’t get past with second round of the playoffs with the group in five straight postseason appearance. Enter Danny Ferry as the new general manager and the roster quickly – and dramatically – changed.
Still, Horford can’t help but wonder what could have been.
“That’s always going to remain the mystery,” Horford said. “We didn’t quite know if we maybe if I was healthy, if Zaza was healthy what would have happened. I think [Ferry] based his decision on our previous playoff history. I think that last year was the year for us if we would have been healthy. I think we would have definitely broke through that barrier.”
The 26-year-old has been thrust into a leadership role, along with Smith, as he enters his sixth season. The Hawks will also need him to regain his All-Star form if they are not to take a step backward.
- Chris Vivlamore
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