Going into the 54th game of the season, Brett Brown was contemplating a difficult decision.
Al Horford hadn’t come off the bench in an NBA game since Nov. 21 of 2007, his rookie year. Yet, Horford’s struggles and fit with the starting unit left Brown in a tough spot.
After hinting at a change before last Friday’s game and again at practice Monday, Brown pulled the trigger Tuesday night ahead of the Sixers’ 110-103 win over the Clippers (see observations).
“I just accepted it,” Horford said. “Obviously not the position that I saw myself in this situation, but it was what was best for the team.”
When Horford signed with the Sixers this summer, GM Elton Brand saw the 33-year-old as an insurance policy for Joel Embiid and a floor spacer for his young All-Star duo. The latter hasn’t quite come to fruition with Horford shooting just 32.7 from three.
That’s part of the reason Brown opted to use the red-hot Furkan Korkmaz in his place. Korkmaz was held scoreless Tuesday but was coming off back-to-back 30-point performances.
While the matchup against the Clippers was a part of it, Brown admitted it’s something that had been on his mind.
“It was originated out of I thought that they were going to go small,” Brown said. “I think that in general, not to use that as the reason, I spoke to Al about it — we're trying to find ways to help him and help the team. I felt, disregarding the lineup defensive adjustments that I just spoke of, that the time was appropriate to do it and see if we can get sort of that second unit going with Al. We did it with [Manu] Ginobili [with the Spurs] long ago. Al is obviously a quality player and how I end games will be, to me, the judgment.”
While Brown is obviously not making an apples to apples comparison with Horford and Ginobili, it is a fair way of demonstrating that a player can still have a significant impact on games coming off the bench.
And Horford truly did. He had nine points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks. The amount of minutes Horford will receive likely won’t differ much either. He’s averaging 30.9 minutes a game and played 28 Tuesday night.
He can still bring plenty to the table for the Sixers in a reserve role.
“I honestly don't think it changes much from what I was doing before,” Horford said. “Just trying to stay engaged as much as I could, focus. Just coming in and just trying to have an impact.”
Horford is a five-time All-Star and has started 832 of the 836 NBA games he’s played in.
It was clear Horford wasn’t thrilled about the notion of coming off the bench, but he handled the situation with professionalism and dignity with media postgame.
He did the same when his coach told him.
“All class,” Brown said about Horford’s reaction. “Right now, this starting group has been struggling, you've done nothing wrong. I keep myself up late at night trying to find ways to better coach it and fix it and let it coexist. And to date after 50 whatever games, we've struggled a little bit. And that's one thing. Then the second thing is I feel like I can help you play at the level that you can play at. ... You kept us up late at night with many scouting reports trying to figure you out. And I think it can be a win-win.”
If Tuesday’s game is any indication, perhaps Horford can have a big impact coming off the Sixers’ bench.
His acceptance of his new role could be just as big.
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