After more than a decade as a dominant starting center in the league, Al Horford has been relegated to a bench role in Philadelphia.
76ers coach Brett Brown took Horford out of their starting lineup right before the All-Star break earlier this month, and played him just 18 minutes off the bench in their 112-104 overtime win against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. He finished with just six points and three rebounds, too, while shooting only 2-of-5 from the field.
Brown, though, isn’t giving up on Horford. He believes the 33-year-old can still have a major impact on their team this season, and wants to “help him help us.”
“There's a human side of this I take a lot of pride in, and figuring that side out as best as I can,” Brown said Friday, via ESPN. “Relationships and communication rule our sort of world in many jobs, and certainly does in mine.
“He's a prideful man. He's got a history ... He has been rewarded with the contract that he has, and [I'm] just keeping it very straight, very clean, very quick ... ‘This is how I see it. This is how I see it, this way.’ And not being apologetic about it. I want to help him help us.
“Somewhere in the middle of that, I am aware of it all. He knows that I am aware of it all. And I believe that things will settle.”
Horford has averaged 11.9 points and 6.6 rebounds this season in Philadelphia, his first with the organization after spending the past three seasons in Boston. The 76ers signed him to a four-year, $109 million deal this summer, clearly hoping he could pair up with Joel Embiid and create a dominant frontcourt force in the league.
Though Horford has looked solid by himself, he has struggled with Embiid in their starting lineup. Per ESPN, the duo has been outscored by 2.1 points per 100 possessions in the nearly 500 minutes they’ve played together this season and seen their team’s offensive rating sink to the worst in the league.
Despite their struggles, Brown has not addressed their future with Horford — and doesn’t see why he would, either.
"How foolish would that be, to talk about what's going to happen in three years?” Brown said, via ESPN. “Like, it's not even close to being on my mind. I'm living in now. I'm very candid, very honest with the way that I see it, the way I just said, and he's been great.”
Even though he’s now in a new role — Horford hasn’t come off the bench since his rookie season — Brown is confident the two can get together and make it work, even if it got off to a rough start on Thursday.
“As I remind everybody, we brought [Manu] Ginobili off the bench [in San Antonio] for many years,” Brown said, via ESPN. “That's my most personal example that I can share with him. And that wasn't smooth at the start, and there is pride involved. But you end up where you end up, and I think his human nature of being selfless, and a tremendous persona and teammate, is filtered into that competitive spirit and that pride. And so far, I feel like he's in an OK place.
“[Thursday] wasn't a great night. But that's an outlier, in so many ways, to me.”
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