Al Horford is three seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance and turned 35 last month. He played just 28 games for the Oklahoma City Thunder last season.
But the veteran big man still can play a key role in the Boston Celtics' turnaround this season.
Horford is back in a C's uniform following a June 18 trade from the Thunder involving Kemba Walker. His first stint in Boston lasted three seasons from 2016 to 2019 -- during which he saw the rapid growth of top draft picks Jaylen Brown (2016) and Jayson Tatum (2017).
Both Brown and Tatum credited Horford for leading by example on those Celtics teams. Ahead of Horford's first game back in Boston in Dec. 2019 after signing with the Philadelphia 76ers the previous offseason, Brown said Horford should be "celebrated" by C's fans.
"For me, he was a great leader, a great person to carry us every step of the way," Brown said at the time. "So I know I’ll clap for him when they call his name."
Tatum put his feelings for Horford more succinctly at the Celtics' 2019 media day:
"Al Horford was one of my favorite teammates. I miss him."
A lot has changed in two and a half years: Brown and Tatum now are bona-fide All-Stars and foundational pieces for a Celtics team with a new head coach in Ime Udoka and a new president of basketball operations in Brad Stevens.
But Horford's value as a leader will be as important as ever. Just ask one of the people who knows him best.
"It's been said in previous interviews by Jayson and Jaylen how much of a leader Al was, and how much they learned from him -- not just basketball-related stuff but life in general," Horford's sister, Anna Horford, said in a recent interview with NBC10's Kwani Lunis.
"So, I think what he brings is ... wisdom and experience. I think he's really going to help these young guys. I think he's going to be a great mentor, I think they're really excited about that. And I'm thinking that's probably why Brad pushed so hard to bring him back."
In his introductory press conference, Udoka stressed the importance of developing Boston's recent first-round picks, from Robert Williams to Romeo Langford to Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard. Horford, who played with Williams during his rookie season, seems eager to help on that front.
"I'm going to be in his ear and we're going to be figuring things out together. I'm excited for him," Horford said recently of Williams. "He knows and understands -- is starting to understand everything like taking care of his body and making sure he's putting in the work. I'm really excited for what's ahead for Rob."
The Celtics have plenty of talent in Brown and Tatum but struggled with chemistry issues and inconsistency last season. Horford's steady presence should help on both fronts -- and give C's fans reason to be excited about what's ahead as well.