Veteran big man Al Horford has likely played his last game for the Oklahoma City Thunder. On Saturday, the two sides agreed that Horford will sit out the remainder of the season, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There will not be a buyout, but the Thunder will look to trade Horford in the offseason.
Over the final few months of the season, Horford will remain in Oklahoma City to train and continue in a leadership role. Per Wojnarowski, Horford “has been considered a significant presence and influence on the Thunder’s young, rebuilding roster, and the organization was eager for Horford to remain among them as the two sides worked through this decision.”
The Thunder released a statement confirming the decision:
“We’ve talked with Al from the time he became a member of the Thunder this offseason about the many ways in which he would be able to help us as we entered the early stages of the necessary transition of our team. From day one Al has been a consummate professional and has had a tremendous influence on the team on and off the floor with his work ethic and total commitment to his teammates. Our conversations have been open and ongoing about how to maximize this season for him personally as well as the development of our team. Al has been nothing short of spectacular and will remain a part of the team as we build on an approach and mentality that we have taken for some time.”
Though now past his prime, Horford has been a healthy and productive player for the Thunder this season, putting up 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game, while shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point land. However, the fact that he has remained a solid player is the problem.
The Thunder pivoted to all-out rebuild mode last summer, but have been much better than expected. Heading into Saturday night’s slate of games, they sit in 12th place in the Western Conference at 19-25, just two games out of the last spot for the play-in tournament. That’s not what the front office was expecting, and it’s clear now they’re making moves to ensure they don’t accidentally make the playoffs and miss out on a high pick in a loaded 2021 NBA Draft.
Earlier this month, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — in the midst of a breakout season — was sidelined with a foot injury, and it seems likely they will hold him out as long as possible. Not only so he fully recovers, but so they stop winning games. They also traded George Hill to the Philadelphia 76ers at the deadline, and now Horford is done for the season. In short, they’re tanking, though of course, they won’t publicly admit as much.
As for Horford, he could still be a helpful player for a contender in a supporting role, but he has two years and $53 million left on his contract, which will make it difficult to find a trade. It’s unlikely a team will be interested in giving up much in the way of assets for a player making that much money at this stage in his career. Still, the Thunder will try every option before simply buying out a player as talented as Horford.
Courtesy: CBS Sports