Community activist, two-time All-Star and now the last man standing from the Atlanta Hawks version of the “Big Three,” Al Horford is entering the most important season of his six-year career. The Hawks will be a vastly different team in terms of personnel than they have been in recent years. A massive roster shakeup has left Horford to lead the fragmented remnants of the perennial playoff teams Atlanta produced in recent history.
Over the last two summers, Horford watched his primary running mates leave the organization. Joe Johnson was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2012 and Josh Smith signed with the Detroit Pistons as a free agent this year. Now only the 6-10 Horford remains as the centerpiece of the franchise, both literally and figuratively, and he thinks it’s his time to be the leader of the organization.
“I’m embracing the challenge,” Horford says. “Obviously I enjoyed the time that I got to play with Joe Johnson and with Josh Smith. We had such good chemistry, especially with Josh and I. Now with things changing here I know that there is new role for me and it’s something that I welcome.”
When pressed on what exactly he thought his role would encompass, he let it be known that he is willing to do whatever is necessary to help Atlanta be successful.
“I’m going to have to be one of the leaders of the team and really lead by example with my work. Verbally if I need to say anything I will. On the court as well, being able to do whatever it takes for us to win. Some nights will require me to score the ball more and some nights to rebound. Whatever it is, whatever it may be I’m ready for that.”
Even with the maturity and strength that can be found in those comments, he still possesses the humility to know it will take everyone on the team to keep Atlanta competitive. He is looking at Jeff Teague, one of Atlanta’s few returning players, to help him lead the Hawks next season.
“I think that he is probably the most important part to our team’s success,” Horford says. “Jeff has proven that he can be really good with his game and I’m expecting a lot of big things out of him this season.”
Teague isn’t the only player that he is excited to have alongside him in Atlanta. Horford works out regularly with Lou Williams, who is trying to come back from an ACL injury suffered in January. He said Williams has been working hard to get back and hopes that he will be able to return to his scoring form sooner than later.
Newly acquired veteran-forwards Paul Millsap and Elton Brand have also added to Horford’s enthusiasm. With Millsap, the Hawks should receive much of the production lost with the departure of Smith but in a more efficient way. Ironically, Millsap’s arrival forces Horford to continue to play out of position at center, which is something he hoped would end with Smith’s exodus.
“Yeah, you know I was kind of dealing with that all summer because I was under the impression that I was going to play power forward and that is my natural position,” Horford says. “But once I saw all the moves that the team made and I talked to coach, they kind of made me understand how their system works and how they feel I can be successful at center. It’s up to me. I am embracing that and I’m going to make the most out of playing center and be the best I can be.”