Al Horford was one player Hawks couldn’t afford to lose (UPDATED)

Center Al Horford is the biggest of losses for the Hawks.

Center Al Horford is the biggest of losses for the Hawks.

(UPDATED: 7:50 p.m.)

Not that anybody had been worn out by victory parades at any time in recent history (or ancient history). But it seems like the Atlanta pro sports world has been strapped to a wrecking ball lately.

Since last May, an NHL franchise was crushed by local ownership, then packaged, sold and shipped to Winnipeg. The Braves collapsed down the stretch of the season and missed the playoffs. The Falcons could’ve avoided a lot of pain by missing the playoffs, for when they got there they were dismembered again.

The Hawks had been our shining light. OK, maybe a 60-watt bulb. But they eliminated Orlando in the first round of the playoffs last season and gave Chicago a run in Round 2.

Then on Thursday, Atlanta gravity pulled them back down into the rubble.

Al Horford — the one player the Hawks could not afford to lose, the one player on the roster that other teams actually want, was counted out by an MRI. Horford suffered what had appeared to be a shoulder strain in Wednesday night’s loss to Indiana when he had his arm pulled back after having his shot blocked by the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert. But an MRI revealed a torn pectoral muscle.

This is not a day-to-day thing. It’s closer to a see-you-in-training-camp-next-year thing. Horford will have surgery and miss three to four months. It’s mid-January. The regular season runs through April 26. Do the math.

Hawks coach Larry Drew was asked what the Hawks will miss without Horford, other than the 12.4 points, seven rebounds and a couple of blocks and assists per game. His answer suggested this was like a live body losing a vital organ.

“Leadership and presence — that’s going to be sorely missed,” he said. “He’s kind of a glue for us. He’s a stabilizer. He’s a guy who huddles the team, who talks in the huddle. He’s a guy who’s not afraid to call people out. Certainly the guys respect him. You can see how guys respond to him.”

Horford is — was — the Hawks’ most important player. It’s not Joe Johnson, the five-time All-Star who too often disappears in big moments and has seldom exuded much in the way of leadership. It’s not Josh Smith, the athletically wonderful but occasionally head-scratcher of a player.

Horford isn’t a brilliant offensive player. But he’s as smart and consistent a performer as the Hawks have on the roster. He rebounds. He bangs. He distributes. Equally important, as Drew noted, is his presence off the court.

“I was hoping it was a strain and I’d rehab it for a couple of weeks and I’d be back,” Horford said.

That, the Hawks could manage. Every team has, or will have, injuries in this condensed season. But the Hawks couldn’t afford a debilitating one like this. What now — trade for Dwight Howard? That has long seemed like a pipe dream because Howard, an impending free agent, has said nothing to indicate he would be willing to sign an extension with the Hawks. And if the Hawks ever had a shot at Howard, Horford figured to be one of the players that Orlando would ask for in a trade.

What do the Hawks offer now — Horford with a torn pectoral, Tracy McGrady with back spasms and Marvin Williams with an ankle sprain?

Whatever it was that you believed the Hawks could achieve this season, adjust down. They’re probably still a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, although Drew said only, “I hope we are.”

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the team reacts to this loss. Said Horford, “All of the guys have to raise their game, help a little bit, and it all starts with Joe and Josh.”

Johnson was the eternal optimist of the group in the locker room Thursday.

“We still have enough talent to be an elite team in the East,” he said.

He gets points for being a rare ray of sunshine. But the reality is, it feels like a wrecking ball just hit another team.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

137 comments Add your comment

"Chef" Tim Dix

January 12th, 2012
5:01 pm

Just sucks. Al is the team.

OLD SKOOL

January 12th, 2012
5:05 pm

OLD SKOOL

January 12th, 2012
5:06 pm

We are in trouble!

John

January 12th, 2012
5:10 pm

Keep the Faith Mighty Birds of Prey fans…. The Hawks will play harder and overcome this obstacle. Big Al, take your time and get well.

Najeh Davenpoop

January 12th, 2012
5:11 pm

Great opportunity to blow up the core.

Outside Observer

January 12th, 2012
5:17 pm

Like you said Jeff, expectations have to be tempered. Horford is the best player on the team. Without him, realistic expectations would be making the playoffs and being competitive. The Hawks can’t win a championship without Horford

Grandmaster JeJe

January 12th, 2012
5:17 pm

Al Horford is not a leader.

This team has no leaders.

I did the math. 3 months from now is over half a month before the postseason begins.

Hail Munson

January 12th, 2012
5:18 pm

And I was actually beginning to care about the Hawks. Oh well, 5ish weeks till pitchers and catchers report.

Grandmaster JeJe

January 12th, 2012
5:19 pm

3 months from now is half a monthbefore the postseason begins.

And this team has no leadership

day old fries

January 12th, 2012
5:20 pm

time for Vakidis to step up.

Grandmaster JeJe

January 12th, 2012
5:21 pm

REAL

January 12th, 2012
5:25 pm

DURRRRRRRRRRRR HAWKS

YET ANOTHER…

Wild Bill

January 12th, 2012
5:26 pm

I don’t get all the praise for Horford, he disappears for long stretches of games, some games he don’t show up at all, I love the Hawks, and I think we will be okay

Whopper Dawg

January 12th, 2012
5:30 pm

Too bad, he was one of the good ones both in the game and out.

Matt

January 12th, 2012
5:32 pm

Blow up this team and get some draft picks. This year’s draft will be sick, and thh season is lost anyway with Al gone.

Nic

January 12th, 2012
5:37 pm

Really sucks! Al please get better soon.

bigdave

January 12th, 2012
5:43 pm

most important player?

Gwalk34

January 12th, 2012
5:44 pm

And the beat goes on….

Matt

January 12th, 2012
5:47 pm

Totally fouled on the play by Hibbert too. Clean block on the first, raked across the elbows on the second. No call. Typical day in the life of ATL sports.

bigdave

January 12th, 2012
5:48 pm

im actually excited about tonight’s game..

its show time..

Falcons4Eva

January 12th, 2012
5:59 pm

Just when we thought this team might be special, this sh!t happens.

We went from a potential 3rd seed to a 6th seed.

Nothing good happens to this team. EVER! Too good for the lottery, too bad for the Conference Championship.

Hawks4Eva

January 12th, 2012
5:59 pm

Vick Supporter

January 12th, 2012
6:01 pm

Damn. there goes the season

Hawks4Eva

January 12th, 2012
6:04 pm

Now we have to deal with the most clumsy, doofuss, misfit of a center if there ever was one….Zza Zza.

This guy – goofy Zza Zza – is the epitome of klutz. The most uncoordinated person on the planet when it comes to basketball. I just be damn. Just when I was excited about this team, this ish happens.

I swear, it does not pay to be a fan of ANY team in Atlanta -

moorman

January 12th, 2012
6:07 pm

like you said, not only did it hurt the current lineup, they cant improve because WHAT else would orlando want outside of horford? looks like they gotta go shopping for a another center…………..where is magnum rolle??????lol

Hawks4Eva

January 12th, 2012
6:08 pm

Can you say: 1st round EXIT our the playoff…..

Hawks4Eva

January 12th, 2012
6:08 pm

Back to Life….Back to Reality……

Hawks4Eva

January 12th, 2012
6:08 pm

The more things change…..the more the stay the same.

J.R.

January 12th, 2012
6:16 pm

I hate to say this, but Horford’s injury could be a blessing in disguise for the Hawks long term. Reason being, they were not going anywhere this year anyway and this FORCES them to FINALLY go out there and get a quality center in which they have needed for years. ZaZa is garbage, bargain basement filler who will not get you anywhere close to the conference finals. Marvin Williams is way overrated and soft as tissue paper. Jason Collins is a goon to come in and hack people. The Hawks need a QUALITY starting center to come in now. Trade Zaza, Marvin and a pick for a starting quality center. This way when next year comes around, the Hawks will have a formidable lineup with some toughness, which they deeply lack.

Ray

January 12th, 2012
6:16 pm

Can we stop being selfish for a moment, and wish Al Horford a speedy recovery? I’m disappointed too– but I want to see him recover 100 per cent! He’s a good young man and a great player!

steve brown

January 12th, 2012
6:16 pm

The Atlanta Spirit is looking for a new name and I think “Badkarma Corp.” is well earned. It is just unfortunate that the city and the players must suffer because of the “Spirits” legacy of screwing things up.

sports genius21

January 12th, 2012
6:19 pm

we can still be a good team without horford sure it hurts but we are a team thats how sports goes what matters is the guys that are healthy need to step up Go Hawks

Doom and Gloom

January 12th, 2012
6:26 pm

Bye Bye 3rd or 4th seed and another second round exit in the playoffs and Welcome 6th or 7th or even (8th) seed and a first round exit in the playoffs :-(

TC

January 12th, 2012
6:27 pm

Jeff: What if the Hawks traded Horford now for Howard without the guarantee that Howard would resign ? It could be worth the potential risk at this point. Maybe have a non binding understanding? Thoughts?

TC

January 12th, 2012
6:29 pm

I actually think the Hawks will be fine. We have a deep bench.

how bout this...

January 12th, 2012
6:30 pm

If the Atlanta Spirit is looking for a new name, why not become The Southern Baptist Convention, they don’t want the name anymore… this would really mess with the typical Hawk fan.

TC

January 12th, 2012
6:32 pm

If we traded Horford for Howard even w/o a guaranteed extention, we would get Howard to make a major playoff run and if it worked well we would have a good shot at resigning him. With Horford out for the season it makes more sense to do this. The Majic could limp along and then have a healthly Horford next year. Could be a worthwhile gamble for the Hawks

Brownie

January 12th, 2012
6:33 pm

OK, someone take JR’s hash pipe away from him…..”trade Za Za, Marvin and a pick for a starting quality center”. What GM in their right mind would do that trade???

I like Al, in fact by far the most complete player on the team, but in reality his #’s are down from previous yrs by quite a bit. They’ll miss his leadership and defense mostly, but not his offense.

Josh has been playing pretty well, Teague is showing he belongs, even Marvin is showing some energy (maybe his bad back has been the problem all along)….the one player who looks asleep is our high-priced SG, Clueless Joe Johnson.

NOBODY will ever trade for JJ, so this team is doomed until that contract is over. This is a team that is built for speed and should be pressing the tempo constantly. But everytime JJ touches it, you can smell the burning rubber from the brakes being applied.

The Hawks are playing better this year even with no pre-season, not because the “core” is still there (check their numbers), but because the bench is dramatically upgraded. The only holdover is Za Za. Because of that fact alone, I think this team will stay close in more games.

If I’m LD, I tell ‘em to run, run, run (keep fresh legs coming) and if JJ can’t keep up, bury him at the end of the bench.

superiorblogman

January 12th, 2012
6:34 pm

Lotto here we come. I will take Anthony Davis over Drummond any day.

Doom and Gloom

January 12th, 2012
6:34 pm

Ivan Johnson, it’s your time to shine young man…. make us proud… (sighs) It sucks losing Horford, sorry about my “Gloomy” post earlier, the Hawks might surprise us….

Spyro

January 12th, 2012
6:36 pm

Jeff, I like Horford and all, but losing Smith would have the same effect as losing Horford. Al may be more consistent on offense, but Josh plays WAAAY better defense that Al. Al just doesn’t react well (or at all) enough when helping. For a big man, Horford is pretty bad at protecting the rim.

Spyro

January 12th, 2012
6:37 pm

Obviously, losing him still sucks. Get well soon, Al.

superiorblogman

January 12th, 2012
6:40 pm

Ivan Johnson is too erratic. He really does not deserve big minutes. Marvin, T-Mac, Al, and Hinrich all out tonight. Charlotte is the better team tonight.

superiorblogman

January 12th, 2012
6:42 pm

Josh Smith will take 15 jumpers tonight. He is in heaven what a ignorant basketball player

Bigman needed

January 12th, 2012
6:46 pm

Dwight howard is not coming here, period end of story. But you can get the #2 pick in dwight’s draft and the man who beat him out for ROY. That’s right omeka ofafor. Deal makes sense for both teams:

Marvin and zaza for okafor

Do it now ASG!

Beast from the East

January 12th, 2012
6:48 pm

Get well soon, Big Al.

tyger

January 12th, 2012
6:56 pm

Zaza Pachulia will fill the void:

2005/06 – 11.7pts 7.9reb 0.5blks
2006/07 – 12.2pts 6.9reb 0.5blks

ZaZa regressed as a backup to Horford and should excel with more minutes now. Since 2005/06, his overall game has improved and he probably will put up better numbers with extended minutes.

He appeared to lose confidence in the backup role, but regained some swag during the playoffs. He has some really nice low post moves but due to hesitantcy he blows alot of chip shots. He doesnt “flop” like he used to, which immediately improved his defense. He’s not a shot blocker but has improved in that area as well.

Let’s see how he responds tonight.

We have Hinrich’s expiring contract that was going to be moved sooner or later anyway. But that was supposed to be for the “missing piece” after a half season of evaluation. Now, that missing piece is a BIG, but what kind?

A minimum wage BIG or is there someone somewhere worth it available?

tyger

January 12th, 2012
6:57 pm

Matt Ryan/Roddy White for RG3!

ugakev

January 12th, 2012
7:31 pm

one word describes this….devestation

ugakev

January 12th, 2012
7:32 pm

bigman…that might could work