Most people are familiar with Murphy’s Law or at least the current version of “whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” Commonly said in situations by the Average Joe on one of the days where the bad luck comes in bunches; it’s almost as if the forces of the universe just won’t let something nice happen to them, no matter how much good karma they may have built up.
Al Horford may be a two-time All-Star, but his career also feels like the embodiment of this law. Every time Horford gets a bit of momentum going towards finally becoming the superstar he plays like, something bad seems to happen. On top of that, he is mostly overlooked in the “best center in the East” discussions, he wasn’t named an All-Star during a great 2012-13 campaign, and was constantly overshadowed during his career by the more bombastic Josh Smith. In fact, most of the mainstream media coverage on Horford is about why he should be playing power forward instead of mentioning that he is a matchup nightmare for his larger stone footed counterparts.
As for Murphy’s Law, Horford’s injuries have stifled his growth towards becoming a superstar. When Atlanta powered on to the 5-seed in the strike shortened 2011-12 seasons, Al was on the sidelines with a left pectoral tear. Last season, Horford went down during a double overtime win against the Cavs with a right pectoral tear. The East was teeth-grindingly thin last year and Atlanta was the 3-seed in the East at the time of Horford’s injury. There was no reason to think that Atlanta couldn’t have had the 3-seed at the end of the season with better fortune in the injury department. Making matters worse was that Horford looked like a lock for the All-Star game last season. One injury broke the string of All-Star appearances he was putting together and the other snubbed him a chance at more notoriety. It’s a game of what-ifs, but there certainly could have been more buzz around Al if he was a four — or maybe even five — time All-Star leading a rising Atlanta Hawks team to a potential eighth straight playoff appearance. Yet, as good as he is, that seems to be the story with Al Horford: great play, a lack of attention, and injuries at the worst possible moments.
It certainly feels as if those winds could change this year. The Bulls are still good, but Miami Heat don’t look like the titanic force they once were in the wake of LeBron James’ departure to Cleveland. They will still be competitive for sure, but at their current state, there’s no assurance that Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Luol Deng are any better than the Hawks’ core. Meanwhile, the Pacers seem to be in potential free-fall without Paul George and Lance Stephenson. The Raptors, Wizards, and newly-branded Hornets have also shown some growth and potential competition in the East, but they all have their own question marks, as well.
The already wide-open East has opened even further. The Hawks likely won’t be the 1-seed, but there’s no reason to write them off this early as not being a contender for home-court advantage. Especially when you notice that — finally — the Hawks seem to have continuity on the floor. Every player on last year’s roster who logged over 1,000 minutes is back, save for Lou Williams, whose dismal production last season during his ACL recovery can likely be replaced by the incoming Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore. This continuity is a far cry from the past couple seasons, where Atlanta was shedding themselves of former “faces of the franchise” Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. With another year with the same core pieces, this could be a very good season in Atlanta.
Thus the stage is set for Horford to finally launch into that superstar tier. While being one of those players that NBA diehards have constantly raved over for lack of attention, Al being recognized for the kind of production he outputs on a consistent basis will validate the claims many have made over the past few seasons. It’ll also validate managements decision to shed those big names in favor of building a team around Horford. If injuries finally permit, the timing is perfect for Al to re-write his NBA story to what it should be: a story of one of the NBA’s best players and a potential franchise cornerstone.