Here’s a secret, one of the writers for this site is actually a Hawks fan. And every now and then, when Ryan isn’t looking, I find a way to sneak my true feelings into this blog. Since he is one of the premier free agents this summer, I have taken it upon myself to make the case for Al Horford.
There has been much debate recently in Hawksnation about the impending free agency of Al Horford. Fans seem to to be split on the idea of signing Horford or whether signing Horford is even possible. With the Hawks elimination from the playoffs at the hands of Cleveland, popular opinion seems to have drifted towards letting Al walk and rebuilding. But I am here to provide clarity and sanity to an emotional process. The path forward for the Hawks is clear, and don’t get distracted by all the shiny new draft picks and the illusive “cap space”. Signing Horford is a must for this team and there can be no debate about this. Here are the reasons:
Rebuilding is overrated
It isn’t often that rebuilds works. Perhaps the best example of a rebuild would be the Boston Celtics, who brought in KG, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce after bottoming out. Their latest rebuild (Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, et al) is going okay, but it’s not like Boston is winning titles right now. More often than not, bottoming out doesn’t directly lead to a championship. The Clippers bottomed out, got Blake Griffin, and the NBA forced Chris Paul to sign with them. They’ve never made it to the Western Conference Finals. Houston acquired assets for years, put all their chips on the table to get James Harden, picked up Dwight Howard from the Lakers, and are a mess, already looking at how to blow it up and rebuild. The 76ers have bottomed out for years, and seem to be getting worse. OKC has 2 of the 5 best players in the league. They made it to the Finals once, and lost 4-1. The notion that the Hawks should let Horford walk, trade Milsap and anyone else who’s on contract, and try to get a top 5 draft pick is idiotic. You don’t blow up a team that is making home court in the playoffs a habit. The Cavs will also probably be making serious changes next year, which could knock them down a peg. No one thinks this Raptors team is a dynasty, especially with DeRozen entering free agency. Even if the Hawks bottom out, and draft a superstar, the goal would be to end up where you are now in a few years: as a top team in the East, with home court advantage, and a chance to go to the Eastern Conference Finals. Yes, it is possible that you’ll draft a Durant/LeBron caliber player, but it is more likely that you won’t, and just get someone who is good, or a bust. What is the point of upending your organization, throwing away a lot of great fan support (that you are just now starting to build) to end up right where you are now? The Hawks are still trying to build a fanbase after ignoring and marginalizing basketball fans for more than a decade. If you throw all that away for draft picks, it’s going to take some time to rebuild the momentum you’ve created. And if it doesn’t work, if that draft pick busts, or simply isn’t Kevin Durant, well, you’re right back at square one.
You Can Absolutely Resign him
Al is happy in Atlanta. He loves Coach Bud, and the system Bud has built perfectly matches Al’s skill set. The Hawks hold his Bird rights, and can offer him a 5th year on his contract (which no one else can). The biggest threats at the moment would be Boston, Golden State, and Oklahoma City. Boston just got beat by Atlanta in the playoffs, and I like Jaylen Brown as much as anybody, but he’s not Durant. OKC’s head coach Billy Donovan coached Al in college and the two have a great relationship, and OKC could absolutely make a “1 player away” argument. It’s hard for a 30 year old player to walk away from a potential title. Which is why the real threat is Golden State. Horford is perfect pick for GSW (more on this later), and this should be the main worry. Both of those are good options for Al but don’t underestimate how much athletes value stability. That extra year means an extra year where Al doesn’t have to worry about contracts, worry where his family will live, sell his house, move his kids out of school, etc. That matters to athletes. A lot. Plus if he and his family are happy here, then chasing an elusive title and giving up stability becomes a little less attractive.
Al’s skills are a perfect fit for the modern NBA
Look at a player like Dwight Howard, who many fans want, and is typically what we think of when we think of a Center. Dwight is being phased out. A back-to-the-basket, center who lives in the post and demands the ball on every possession is no longer necessary. In fact, it hurts you. A team like the Hawks wants the ball to be moving constantly. Howard wants to dribble the ball 35 times and make his own shot. He’s a square peg on a team of round holes. Instead you need someone who can guard the rim, guard pick and rolls, spread the floor, and pop out to hit a three to stretch the defense. That’s Al. His ability to match up in the interior and to stretch defenses with his shooting is perfect for the modern game. It is also perfect for Coach Bud’s philosophy. Paired with Paul Milsap, Al has been at the center of the Hawks stifling defense. Build around your strengths. The heart of the team is the Milsap-Horford front court. If you let Al walk, the thing the team most needs is, well, an Al Horford. Teams all over the league are looking for big men who can defend pick n rolls, and hit outside shots. Don’t get caught up in the idea of Al not being a prototypical big, that no longer matters. Unless the Warriors trade Draymond, you can’t find a much better for the future of the league than Al.
Don’t worry about the years
Long contracts for players over 30 are scary. I totally get it. But take a deeper look at Al’s career. For 2 years, (2011-2012, and 2013-2014) Al played a total of 40 games. This was due to a torn pectoral muscle that just didn’t heal right. Since then Al has averaged about 77 games a season, playing about 33-35 minutes a night. The torn pectoral was a flukey injury, not really a sign of any structural problems or anything that’s going to come back. Old big men are scary, but Al’s skill set doesn’t require him to bang inside on the low post. As he grows older, Al can morph into even more of a perimeter player, and continue to stretch defenses. Compare this to someone like Dwight, who’s body has taken a beating. Dwight is racking up injuries, and the idea he can morph into a more perimeter player as he gets older is ludicrous. It is also important to remember that Coach Bud comes from the Spurs, who have a pretty good history of managing minutes and stretching their players’ careers. As he gets older we can trust Bud to manage his minutes, not play him on the second night of back to backs and help keep Horford fresh. Plus, anyone who has watched a Bud coached team knows, he doesn’t exactly ride his guys into the ground. The Hawks are also investing in a shiny new health facility, and if they resign Al then “Keep Horford Healthy” will absolutely be emblazoned on the walls. It’s not like his contract will be untradeable. If you get 3 years down the road and he’s starting to deteriorate you can still trade him. (Look at Dwight for godssake) But it is highly likely you’ll get at least another 3 years of one of the best front courts in the NBA.
AL HORFORD IS REALLY REALLY GOOD
This cannot be said enough. Al is a 4 time All Star. He has a career 19.1 PER. He is averaging 17.1 pts/36 and 8tr/36. You can’t just replace that. Furthermore, Al is the team’s leader. He sets the tone on defense, he mentors the younger players, he is your Duncan. He’s nowhere near as accomplished as Tim, but in terms of setting the tone, leading the team, and being the example, he is exactly what you want. There is a reason why so many teams are lining up to offer him the max. He has great stats, but his value goes beyond the stat sheets. The Hawks are a better team when he’s on the floor, he spaces well, he is great on pick and rolls, and the Horford/Milsap combo is why the Hawks are so good defensively. This isn’t Joe Johnson 2.0. This is an established All-star, veteran leader, stretch 5. If the Hawks can surround Al with some more shooting and athleticism then you’ve got the makings of a constant competitor. Will the Hawks ever win a championship with Al? Who the hell knows. But you are crazy to just let a player this talented, this much of a leader, this good of a fit, this much of a coveted style of center, walk without a fight. Signing Al solidifies yours front court and allows you to keep playing pace and space, while maintaining one of the stingiest defenses in the NBA. As a Hawk fan, what more can you ask for? Oh and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO YOU NOT REMEMBER THE PUTBACK AGAINST WASHINGTON??
Don’t screw around Atlanta. Get this done.