by DeMarco Williams / @demarcowill

Atlanta Hawks fans, Josh Smith ain’t walkin’ through that door. But DeMarre Carroll, Jared Cunningham and Pero Antic are proudly marching their way into the Philips Arena practice gym. Here comes new head coach Mike Budenholzer, too. There are lots of other new faces prancing about the team media day.

Back in June, fans were expecting Dwight Howard or Chris Paul to be here among the crew. And truth be told, so was Al Horford. The Hawks center, a two-time All-Star who spoke to area sportswriters on September 30 about the coming campaign, thought this past offseason would be the one where a franchise-shifting signing would happen. Unless you consider that person to be Elton Brand, it never materialized.

When you went into the summer, with the cap space and all, is this what you planned in terms of the rest of the roster, or this just how it goes when it comes to free agency?

Al Horford: I think more than anything, it’s just the way that it goes. I think everyone at times can kinda make their own mental picture and things like that about how things should go. This isn’t exactly what I wanted, but at the end of the day, I believe in [Hawks GM] Danny [Ferry] and his vision and where he wants to go.

Beyond the oh-so-subtle front-office stab, you won’t hear much in the way of angst from No. 15. No time. Too much work still needs to get done. Horford, the six-year vet and unofficial leader of this franchise now, needs to get on one accord with new teammates like fellow bruiser Paul Millsap. Old teammates such as Jeff Teague and Lou Williams have to learn new schemes. On top of all that, Horford and everybody else have got to figure out a plan for making up for the 17 points and 8 boards Smith packed with him to Detroit. Of course, knowing Horford’s career point average rose from 15.3 ppg in ’10-11 to a career-high 17.4 ppg last year, Coach Bud may be looking Horford’s way to take up the slack. Big Al seems more than ready for the expanded role.

We saw you working on your three last year. Should we expect you to continue with that?

AH: Yeah, it’s one of those things that I always try to work on—but not only the three. I always try to work on different areas of my game. Once I feel good enough about them, I’ll bring them out. If I’m in a position this year to shoot them, I will. But it’s not like I’m going to be looking for it. I know that I gotta play inside and I know that I gotta play on the elbow. That’s my game. That’s my strength. But it’s good to work on them. You never know when you have to take them.

If the super steady Horford gets any sort of consistent mid- to long-range shot going, the Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah fan clubs will have zero to talk about when the “Who’s the Best Center in the East” conversation heats back up. ‘Til then, Horford’s more than content with posting up smaller forwards and finessing past slower centers. Beyond the scoring, though, Horford is an underrated playmaker (3.2 assists per night, fourth best among NBA centers) coming off career highs in blocks (1.1) and steals (1.1) in ’12-13. With a lot of last year’s production elsewhere, modest upticks in all of those areas aren’t just welcomed, they’re expected.

Are you concerned about size on the roster?

AH: I’m going to take care of my body as best that I can. I understand and believe what they’re trying to do. I think I’m going to play a little 4—the same as last year. But I agree with you, I was under the impression that some changes were going to happen. They didn’t happen. I have to deal with it. I have to adjust.

Coach Bud keeps talking about building a squad with a high “basketball IQ” and working hard as a team in order to succeed. All of that sounds great on media day transcripts, but when it comes down to the wee moments of the fourth quarter, you need folks who simply get the job done. As of now, the Hawks don’t look to have a lot of those kinds of players on the roster. Horford hasn’t even really been asked to be that guy before. But Smith ain’t walkin’ through that door any more. The time is now for Big Al. And when opportunity knocks this season, Horford’s gonna rip that sucker right off its hinges.


Where should Al Horford rank in the SLAM Top 50?

Loading ... Loading ...
SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Monta EllisMavsSG5
49Luol DengBullsSF10
48Ricky RubioTWolvesPG14
47Greg MonroePistonsPF12
46Kawhi LeonardSpursSF9
45Mike ConleyGrizzliesPG13
44Al JeffersonBobcatsC9
43David LeeWarriorsPF11
42Jrue HolidayPelicansPG12
41Anthony DavisPelicansPF10
40Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
39Serge IbakaThunderPF9
38Kevin GarnettNetsPF8
37Rudy GayRaptorsSF8
36Paul PierceNetsSF7
35Ty LawsonNuggetsPG11
34Pau GasolLakersPF7
33Al HorfordHawksC8

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.