SAN FRANCISCO -- You initially feel sorry for Al Horford before realizing he signed a $97 million contract to be in the situation that he’s in.
That money, combined with the $160 million he’s made in his first 12 seasons, should provide generational wealth for his family.
But it’s not Horford’s fault that his time as a 76er has been less than ideal. No one can fault a player for taking the big bucks. Heck, folks might have looked at him strangely for turning the money down.
The Sixers are the ones who made a huge miscalculation by signing him to the four-year free-agent deal in the first place this summer.
That’s because his front-court pairing with three-time All-Star center Joel Embiid is a failure. The team basically admitted that when Horford was demoted to the bench before the Feb. 11 home contest with Los Angeles Clippers. He returned to the starting lineup three games later only because point guard Ben Simmons was sidelined with a pinched nerve in his lower back.
Saturday night’s contest against the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center marked his seven straight start -- fifth at center -- following Embiid’s left-shoulder sprain.
So his presence has been welcomed, as the Sixers view him as an insurance policy for the oft-injured Embiid.
The fault of the poor pairing falls in the lap of the front office.
Horford probably felt like a great fit, mainly because of his familiarity with general manager Elton Brand, who, in this instance, probably went with his heart rather than thinking things through.
On the bright side, Horford, as planned, has been able to step in for Embiid, who has missed 21 games this season.
But even that’s a bad justification, considering the Sixers are basically paying $28 million this season to a backup center.
They all see that it is a mistake.
It’s become obvious that Horford is out of position at power forward. At center, he’s in his comfort zone, quarterbacking the gym.
A great example is Thursday night’s 125-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings. Horford looked like the Al Horford of the past, finishing with 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. He was career-best plus-41 for the game.
“I think the last game that we played is a reminder of who he is,” coach Brett Brown said. “He was a plus-41, which I haven’t seen. I don’t think I’ve seen that. He was great.”
Starting at power forward, Horford is often asked to stretch the floor and shoot a high volume of what seems like uncomfortable three-point attempts. But when playing center, he is better suited guarding the opposing big man, instead ofchasing around stretch fours like he’s has to do while playing with Embiid.
The Sixers haven’t taken advantage of the five-time All-Star’s strengths. As a result, he’s struggled.
“It’s true," Brown said, "he has come in and had to sacrifice, when you have your full squad when Ben and Joel [are healthy] and trying to figure out where do I fit in with Tobias [Harris] and Josh [Richardson]. He really hasn’t misstepped in relation to his comments to the Philadelphia media or national media since this has unfolded.”
But to his credit, Horford has never complained.
He could have publicly expressed his displeasure with not being put in a position to succeed. He could have complained about the number of three-pointers the team wants him to shoot as they continue to “hunt three-pointers.”
Whenever he did speak out, it was about trying to follow his rhythm and he and teammates needing to continue to listen to Brown and follow his game plan.
Perhaps his silence combined with his struggles have been partly viewed as a reason for the team’s underachieving. Folks aren’t aware that he’s out of position. They just think he’s playing poorly.
They also don’t know that he’s been hampered by left hamstring tightness and left knee soreness all season. They just wonder why he’s having a tough time chasing younger stretch-fours around the court.
They complain that he has the second highest salary on the team, behind Tobias Harris’ $32.7 million.
But, hey, it’s not his fault.