Al Horford was signed last July to be a veteran leader, offensive lubricant, and defensive backup rim-protector. The 34-year-old Florida product is in his 13th season in the NBA. In many ways, Horford was expected to be a team mentor, a-la Amir Johnson. But with much more production to demand respect in the locker room, especially from Joel Embiid. Thus far this season, his on-court production has not lived up to the expectations from the team. The team has used the off time to learn more about each other and to build trust and chemistry. Horford was reticent early in the season but has recently become more vocal. 

Prior to Monday’s practice, I asked Joel Embiid what he has learned from Horford this season. “He is a great person,” Embiid said. “The way he presents himself.” Embiid continued on about how hard it had been to play against the veteran big man, saying Horford just “kinda got this way about him.” 

Brett Brown on Horford’s Emerging Voice

“What I’ve been most impressed with is, him being vocal,” said Brown before practice. “His level of competitiveness, there is a physicality, a toughness,” continued the Sixers head coach. “A voice that you just feel as we’ve you know we scrimmaged a fair bit. We played a fair bit of five on five,” Brown added. The seven-year head coach described himself as “trying to keep the group’s spirit in perspective, at a place that I think is realistic and I feel like Al has jumped into that environment in a significant way. I think his mood, his spirit, his toughness his voice, and he’s just been very physical in the games and it has stood out to me.” 

However, there’s no denying that there are still kinks to be worked out in regards to the on-court fit of this team. In January, Brown remarked, “At times it [the fit] is clunky. It’s an unusual set of talents that we have. So, should it be clunky? I think it should. Should it have been ironed out a little bit sooner? Possibly. But is it something I’m really worried about? It’s not.” 

Raul Neto on the Horford integration

I asked Raul Neto about what he noticed about Horford’s increased voice in the locker room. Neto offered high praise for the veteran: “Always been huge for us you know since the beginning, of course. At first, he was trying to like he was the new guy he didn’t want to talk a lot but now he feels comfortable. You feel like he’s one of the leaders on this team and everybody listens to him, he’s a vet.” 

He’s been in the league for a long time.. a lot of playoffs ..big games so everybody knows that everybody trusts him to be our voice. – Raul Neto on Al Horford

Al Horford

Al on Al 

“As we go along, I’m finding my way and understanding how I can help the group and where I can come in and have a positive impact,” Horford said back in January. Horford’s struggles this season have, in large part, involved the shot locations the team needs him to inhabit. He is averaging a career-low in True Shooting percentage, which weighs offensive efficiency. That precipitous drop in efficiency is not in any single area, either. He is shooting significantly worse this year from the floor, from the free throw line and the three-point line. 

In January, Horford said, “I still haven’t been able to find my rhythm with the team.”  Horford described himself as “doing what I can to help us. But offensively, I’m very limited with the things that I can do. So I can’t control that stuff.”. What Horford can control, however, is his demeanor, his commitment to the team, and his availability to those looking for words of wisdom. Horford has played in 120 career playoff games. That experience, combined with unselfishness and execution, will be needed for the 76ers to win the ultimate prize this season. 

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