BOSTON -- Having been around Al Horford for three years here in Boston, frustration was an emotion you seldom saw let alone heard him talk about when it came to his role on the team.
And yet here he is, just months into his new (and well-paid) gig in Philly which hasn’t gone quite how Horford thought it would in terms of his role or the team’s success.
Horford, 33, is shooting a career-worst 45 percent from the field and grabbing a career-low 6.5 rebounds per game which isn't that big a shock considering he's sharing the floor with Joel Embiid who is one of the league's better rebounders.
But it's Horford's offense and his uncertain role that has him still trying to figure out exactly how he can best help the team with a role that's very different than what he had in Boston and, to a lesser degree, to his time in Atlanta, too.
“I’m out [there] for the team and doing what I can to help us,” Horford told the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. “But offensively, I’m very limited with the things that I can do. So I can’t control that stuff.”
And Horford’s comments come on the heels of another newcomer to the Philly family this season, Josh Richardson, speaking out about what he sees as issues inside the locker room.
"I don't think that there's enough accountability in our locker room right now, honestly," Richardson told reporters. "I think that we got some new guys, who don't want to step on toes, including myself. I feel like we kind of go play, and don't compete as much. There's been games that we have and it's been great. But when it's not going good, we got to hold each other accountable. I think that's where a lot of our problems start."
Currently sixth in the East, most envisioned Philadelphia looking down upon the rest if not most of the East this season based on the additions of Horford and Richardson.
There’s still a lot of games left to be played, but this Sixers team needs some kind of roster shakeup.
It could be something as simple as players becoming more accountable as Richardson points out, or something more drastic like a trade or firing of the head coach.
Multiple league sources that spoke with NBC Sports Boston this week have indicated the next couple of weeks are worth monitoring the situation in Philly.
“Bottom line, that team’s underachieving,” said one league executive. “But who do you blame for that? Is it the coach [Brett Brown]? [Joel] Embiid? [Ben] Simmons? They need to figure it out because you look at the teams in the East right now, everyone seems to be getting stronger as the season goes by except for them [Sixers].”
ZION RETURN IMMINENT?
The long-awaited regular-season debut of Zion Williamson looks as though it could happen any day now. The top overall pick in last June’s NBA draft went through his first full practice on Jan. 2 after having surgery on Oct. 2 to repair a meniscus injury in his right knee.
By no means will his return immediately turn around the fortunes of a New Orleans team that’s among the league’s worst record-wise.
But at a minimum, having Williamson on the floor will generate some much-needed buzz for the Pelicans in addition to elevating the interest level of fans in whatever city Zion takes his talents to during the regular season.
No timetable has been announced for his return, which makes sense considering how important a healthy Williamson is to this franchise long-term.
"I know that's typical, but we really do have to take it a day at a time to see what kind of progress he makes," head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. "See what happens after he goes through practices and things like that. Like we said and will continue to say, he'll play when the time is right for him to do that. When that is, I'm not real sure of. But I know he's making progress, that's the thing that matters most."
Williamson added, “I gotta pass the assessments. Once I pass those, [Pelicans GM David Griffin] will let me go."
REMEMBERING DAVID STERN
The tributes and condolences have steadily poured in since former NBA commissioner David Stern passed away on New Year’s Day at the age of 77.
Words don’t do just to the impact he made on the NBA on so many levels, from the uber-rich TV deals, player salaries and the game’s expansion in terms of the number of teams and its overall global impact.
Still, the NBA of today is a different game than the one Stern inherited, filled with players who have benefited greatly from his visionary work as commissioner.
It makes one wonder if this generation of players truly understands just how indebted they are to Stern’s work which spanned three decades - the longest tenure of any commissioner of the four major professional sports leagues in this country.
“I’m not sure how aware my generation is to, how David turned and transitioned the league to where it is at now,” said the Celtics' Jaylen Brown. “But definitely he was a tremendous leader, for sure, for the NBA.”
FIRST ROUND OF (BIZARRE) ALL-STAR BALLOTING
OK, so the idea that the Celtics' Tacko Fall was among the top 10 vote-getters among frontcourt players in the first round of All-Star balloting was a bit odd.
He’s on a two-way contract and will spend more time in the G-League than with the Celtics, but we get it. He’s a huge fan favorite wherever he goes, even on the road.
His first NBA game came at Madison Square Garden where fans began cheering for him to enter the game and continued cheering for him once he was on the floor.
So, we get why he garnered the sixth-highest number of votes in the frontcourt.
But that wasn’t the biggest head-scratcher.
That would be Alex Caruso of the Los Angeles Lakers garnering the eighth-highest number of votes (92,233) ahead of Phoenix’s Devin Booker (91,817) and Memphis’ Ja Morant (77,081).
I know it’s the first returns and Caruso remaining ahead of those two seems unlikely, but … Alex Caruso? Seriously?
MICHAEL PORTER JR. ON THE RISE
The Denver Nuggets are starting to look like the Western Conference power many envisioned for them, and the play of Michael Porter Jr. is part of that ascension.
Because of Denver’s depth and MPJ’s draft-night slide due to injuries, he has been sort of the forgotten man for most of this season.
But lately, he’s reminding the world that it wasn’t that long ago when he was seen as arguably the best player in his draft class, a class that included Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, high-scoring guard Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks and former Michigan State star Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Porter Jr. has shot better than 50 percent from the field in each of Denver’s last four games which includes his first career start coming in a five-point win over Sacramento in which he scored 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
At 6-foot-10 with the ability to stretch the floor and score around the rim, his improved play of late makes an already talented Denver Nuggets team that much more dangerous going forward.
*This was a historic holiday season for the Holiday family and the NBA. The three NBA-playing Holiday brothers - Justin, Jrue and Aaron - all played in the same game on Dec. 28 when Indiana (that’s where Aaron and Justin play) took on Jrue’s New Orleans Pelicans. It was the first time in NBA history when three brothers played in the same NBA game.
*Gary Payton Jr. is doing Gary Payton Sr.-like things these days for the Washington Wizards. Payton Jr. has appeared in just five games, but is averaging 3.2 steals per game which would be tops in the league if he had enough games played. The elder Payton was a nine-time All-NBA Defensive First Team member and Defensive Player of the Year (1996) who is also a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2013.
*The Lakers lost out on the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes to their co-tenants in Los Angeles, but they might have the inside track on landing Darren Collison. Collison, who retired after spending last season with the Indiana Pacers, is apparently having a change of heart and is considering coming out of retirement to join one of the Los Angeles teams. Both are interested, but the Lakers - for now at least - appear to be the front-runner if Collison decides to return.
*Vince Carter will turn 43 years old on Jan. 26. When he plays Friday night against the Boston Celtics, he’ll become the first player in NBA history to play in four different decades. An eight-time All-Star, Carter was the fifth overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Hawks, which tips off Friday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Tommy have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.