When Al Horford came off the bench during the 76ers’ last game before the All-Star break, a 110-103 victory over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 11, it marked the first time since his rookie year in 2007-08 with Atlanta that he wasn’t a starter.
The Sixers (34-21) returned to practice Wednesday and afterward, coach Brett Brown said that Horford will continue coming off the bench, for the immediate future.
Now in his 13th season, Horford signed a four-year, $109 million deal with $97 million guaranteed last summer with the Sixers after playing the previous three seasons in Boston.
“I think for the moment we’re going to try to throw that rotation as you saw against the Clippers,” Brown said as the Sixers prepared for Thursday night’s home game against the Brooklyn Nets.
In that win over the Clippers, Furkan Korkmaz started in place of Horford, along with Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Ben Simmons.
Brown said he might not necessarily go with one set starting lineup. That fifth starter could change, but for now, as long as everybody is healthy, Horford should continue coming off the bench.
If Kormaz doesn’t start, Glenn Robinson III could fit the bill. Robinson and Alec Burks were acquired at the trade deadline Feb. 6 from the Golden State Warriors for three second-round picks.
Robinson has a much better reputation than Korkmaz as a defender, and he is shooting 39.5% from three-point range. (He has missed both his threes in his two games with the Sixers.)
Horford has been more effective as a backup center with Embiid out of the game. When the two have been on the floor, there have been spacing issues.
Embiid got into early foul trouble against the Clippers and played just 28 minutes and 10 seconds but still produced 26 points and nine rebounds. Horford played 27:56 and had nine points and six rebounds.
Even though they didn’t start together, Embiid and Horford shared the court. For instance, they both started the fourth quarter.
Horford tried to downplay his new role, saying it is a lot like his old one.
“I don’t think it changes much, to be honest,” Horford said after practice. “I am going to be out there defensively, setting the tone for our group, making sure I am helping people on the defensive end. And offensively, where I get my spots, make plays or be ready to shoot, pretty much the same.”
Asked if not being a starter bothers him, Horford, seeming uncomfortable with the topic, replied, “I am playing similar to what I was playing before.”
It still appears as if his minutes will be lessened. He is averaging 30.9 minutes, so it will be interesting if he will stay near that total.
One thing is for sure: Brown seems excited to have Robinson and Burks at his disposal.
In 48 games this season for Golden State, Burks averaged a career-high 16.1 points. During his Sixers debut against the Clippers, he had two points on 1-for-4 shooting in 14:20.
“Alec needs to be put in a situation where he can score,” Brown said. “I’m looking at him as sort of instant-offense type off the bench.”
Brown had previously praised Robinson for his two-way game.
The Sixers, who are 25-2 at home and 9-19 on the road, are fifth in the Eastern Conference, 1 1/2 games behind fourth-place Miami and 4 1/2 games behind third-place Boston. Brown says there is still time to experiment with his rotation.
“With 27 games left, my mindset is to take this next period of time, seven, 10, whatever games, and really get precise and purposeful with our rotation, and then take that run home and polish it up,” Brown said. “And I think that 27 games is an eternity by NBA standards.”
After playing in Sunday’s All-Star game, Embiid said he felt fine, having not worn a splint on his left hand during the game. Wednesday, the Sixers reiterated that point, saying Embiid’s surgeon has approved buddy tape for his fingers instead of the splint. Sunday marked the first time Embiid played without the splint since he returned Jan. 28 from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger.