When the Hawks announced that they had made Joe Johnson the highest-paid player in the NBA, we all waited for the punchline.
Tuesday, the Hawks announced Al Horford has agreed to a five-year extension worth $60 million. This news isn’t deserving of a punchline — it’s deserving of a parade.
Horford is more than just a talented player. He is an All-Star center even though power forward is his stronger and more natural position. He is a building block unlike any building block the Hawks have had for several years. He is a leader. He has substance.
Josh Smith and Joe Johnson both can be great players. Neither are great leaders. That, along with Johnson’s side swipe at Hawks fans during last year’s second-round implosion against Orlando, is why so many fans were angered by the team giving him a six-year, $124 million contract (the largest current package of any NBA player).
General manager Rick Sund on Horford: “From the moment he arrived in Atlanta, Al has been a large part of our success.” It’s not just a coincidence the team has made the playoffs in all three of his seasons.
Horford’s maturity was apparent from the time he arrived from Florida, where he won two Final Fours. He isn’t afraid to speak up when it’s needed. After the Orlando series, he was the only player in the Hawks’ locker room who said what was needed.
“Just watch and see [Orlando’s] level of intensity that they played with,” Horford said after the elimination game in May. “That defines their team. They’re a championship caliber team. Just take that in and play like that for next season.
“It takes a whole lot of effort. It’s almost to the point where you have to make yourself feel uncomfortable out there. We didn’t have that this year. With some of our guys when fatigue set in, everybody kind of shied away from it.”
Team work, toughness and consistent work ethic are three things new coach Larry Drew is trying to bring to the Hawks. (So far it’s working: The Hawks are 3-0.) Horford exemplifies all three.
This one, the Hawks got right.