With Philadelphia losers of three straight and six of their last nine games, the 76ers are getting a little salty. They’ve had strong performances in December including one in Boston and a thrashing that left the league-leading Bucks as roadkill on Christmas, but
At times, they’ve looked like puzzle with no corner pieces. Joel Embiid will look like the dominant big man that Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal shame him to be, but a complete picture as a contender rarely comes to view. A consistent critique has been roster construction. They in effect traded Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick for Josh Richardson and Al Horford, giving up playmaking and shooting and instead, doubling down on size and defense.
At times, it’s worked and they’ve played to their championship-contending ceiling. Their slow, lumbering style looks more post-season than regular season and they’re boasting a top-ten defensive rating with their supersized front court. However, it’s not all brotherly love in Philly. Horford’s comments to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey suggests that there’s still work to do. “It’s not as good as I want to be,” Horford said. “I still haven’t been able to find my rhythm with the team.”
It’s a sobering reminder of the importance of fit, both on and off the court. for NBA free agents. In Philadelphia, Horford’s looks limited in how he can affect the game and more so, handcuffed against what he does best. As Pompey suggests, “they’ve haven’t come close to being a dynamic duo. It’s been more like the league’s best center being paired with a role-playing power forward.” With the Celtics, Horford was the do-it-all big man that worked as both an offensive hub and a middle linebacker on D in Brad Stevens’ system. He was the nationally underappreciated, locally beloved superstar that Boston embraced with open arms. But alas, not hard enough.
It’s New Year’s Day and today is not a day for regret and reminiscing, but it’s hard not to think about what could have been and the potential of what this roster plus Al Horford would look like. Back in October, Horford told The Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett that he had doubts of a future in Boston if Kyrie Irving had re-signed. When asked about teaming up with Kemba Walker, Horford danced around the issue and said, “I don’t want to get caught up in the past, but, yeah, that would have been totally different.”
“Totally different.” A trio of past and future All-Stars in Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward flanking him on the wing. Walker at the point, running pick-and-pops with him all night. Marcus Smart with the second unit, the fire and soul of the locker room to his calm and cool demeanor and leadership. Maybe old acquaintances should be forgot and never brought to mind in 2020, but it’s hard not to think about our old friend Big Al back in green.