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A collection of thoughts on the Al Horford situation

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a ton to process so far not only with the Sixers but with the landscape of the NBA. I’m still trying to wrap my head around all that has happened. For now, I’ve written up some thoughts on the Al Horford signing, which was somehow entirely foreseeable and entirely shocking.

  • In the sport of football, the 2000’s brought an increase in value of the left tackle position due to their responsibility to protect the quarterback’s blind side. Protecting the quarterback’s blind side became so important to football coaches, analysts and fans that this way of thinking even roped right tackles in. The strategy was frequently the following: if your left tackle goes down, you should move your right tackle over to the left side if he is the best remaining pass blocker on the roster, because BLIND SIDE. But more recently, teams are discovering this may not be the most effective remedy to losing a left tackle, because what you are actually doing is making yourself worse at two positions rather than one: moving from the right side to the left side isn’t merely a change of scenery, it’s a change in approach. You can expect a drop-off in production from your right-tackle-turned-left, and the player who will now start at right tackle is likely to be a downgrade or else he would have been starting in the first place. Signing Al Horford with the intentions of making him a four within your primary lineup feels like moving your right tackle to left tackle. Sure, he can do it and maybe even do it well; but you’re ultimately still taking your right tackle away from where he is most effective. If you’re going to shell out $100+ million over four years to a player, I think you should do your best to ensure that player will be put into position to maximize their impact. Al Horford is a center. The Sixers want to make him a four when the games matter. It could work! But it certainly doesn’t feel like a move to maximize the ceiling of your go-to lineup. To compound the effect of moving Horford from his natural position, his very presence means that Tobias Harris too will frequently play out of position at the three rather than the four. I’m maybe more concerned about the long-term prospects of Harris at the three than I am about Horford at the four.
  • That said, there’s certainly a lot to be interested in with regard to adding Horford to a core of Embiid, Simmons, and Harris. The first thing that comes to mind is that the Sixers are BIG. They should be able to force a lot of mismatches. The next is that Horford is a talented defender, and it’s exciting to think about the defensive pressure they can put on the opposition with lineups like Simmons-Thybulle-Richardson-Horford-Embiid. Notice that lineup doesn’t even include Zhaire Smith, who has potential to be a defensive specialist on the wing.
  • Brett Brown will have a tough task in constructing a potent offense out of this collection of talent. The Sixers have no one I trust to consistently operate out of the pick-and-roll, which I think may be what perplexes people most about the Horford signing. If you have that much cash, why not go get someone who can ball-handle/initiate? Bringing Horford aboard could be viewed as a belief in the development of Ben Simmons in some respect. Part of the pitch to Tobias may have been that he will get more opportunities to run the half-court offense, as my colleague Jackson Frank pointed out. However, neither improvement from Simmons nor Tobias’ increased responsibility is enough to convince me the Sixers can have sustained success in the halfcourt just yet.
  • Between Brett Brown and Ime Udoka and the fact that Al Horford is 33 years old, how long before we hear someone in the organization talk about Al Horford and Tim Duncan in the same sentence?
  • For Elton Brand and the Sixers, one of the most enticing things about bringing Horford aboard is presumably the flexibility they’ll have in Joel Embiid’s load management. We’ve all talked about how the Sixers need at the very least an adequate center behind Joel. Well, the Sixers got much more than that. Not only can you expect the Sixers’ net rating to not fall of a cliff when Joel leaves the court, but Brett Brown may even create some Embiid-less lineups that really take advantage of other teams. It is scary to think that the Sixers may have made this move as a result of recency bias, but there’s no denying that this all could build a very successful path for keeping Joel Embiid healthy. There’s also the reverse of this, that Joel Embiid’s presence will also allow for Al Horford to preserve his health and longevity. Over his three seasons in Boston, Horford has missed at least 10 games in every season, and last year he dealt with some knee issues. When you add in his playoff minutes, Al’s got just a hair under 30,000 minutes played in his NBA career. Horford played three seasons of college ball at Florida. Reminder: this contract will take him through his age 36 season.
  • In this Eastern Conference, there’s a good chance you’ll have to go through Giannis to get to the Finals. I like that the Sixers potentially have a few different defensive looks they could throw his way in Horford, Embiid and Simmons.
  • I’m not head-over-heels for what the Sixers have done so far, but I’m more on the positive side of things. There’s a lot of confusion about what the Sixers actually offered Butler, but in the end, I don’t get the sense that Butler was itching to stay with Philly. To get Josh Richardson rather than nothing at all is a great! I expect Horford to be a plus in the near-term on the court and despite Boston’s locker room implosion this past season, I think Horford will do a lot of good for the Sixers’ culture for the entirety of his tenure in Philly. Still, I’m scared about the back end of his deal, and the Sixers overpaid and committed for too long. My biggest concern over the way things have turned out less than 24 hours into the moratorium is that the Sixers don’t have a player they can turn the offense over to when Simmons struggles. Even if Ben were to take a leap as a shooter/creator, who runs the 2nd unit offense? Are they really preparing to go with TJ for yet another season only to again see that he hurts the team when the playoffs come around?
  • The NBA is pretty open for the taking right now (although it will be less so if Kawhi heads to the Lakers). The Sixers have one of the most talented rosters in the league. However, they’re still missing some things. Sans Butler, I would have liked to see them add any of Cory Joseph, Tomas Satoransky, Austin Rivers or Seth Curry. As I’ve been typing this, they’ve all been scooped up by other teams. Maybe none of those players would have been the difference in rounding out a championship roster, and maybe Butler has always been the most clear path to win the Finals. But the Sixers are close. I think they may have to make a move at some point to get a true lead guard in the mix. They could have done much worse than they have thus far, but at the same time, they may have put themselves in a position where they’ll still need to go out and make a splash trade at some point in the future to put them over the top.
  • Max Carlin of Celtics Blog will be joining me for a Q&A on Horford to provide further insight on what this move could mean for the Sixers. Stay tuned.

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