Al Horford is out for the season.
Horford is healthy, and he has played solid basketball for the Thunder when on the court — 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds a game, shooting 36.8% from three — but the Thunder are going to sit him the rest of the way to focus on their younger players, Thunder GM Sam Presti announced Saturday.
“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,” Presti said in a statement. “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.”
Horford will remain with the Thunder and train at the facilities, he just will not play in games, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Horford is on board with this plan.
“When I arrived, I understood the direction of the team, we had a great individual plan in place for me, and I feel like as a result I’ve played really good basketball for the Thunder,” Horford said in a statement released by the team. “At the same time, I know what it’s like to be a young, aspiring player, and at this point in the season I understand how important playing meaningful minutes is for their careers and their development. I also understand how important it is for the organization to give them that opportunity. I’m looking forward to supporting the guys who supported me, watching them continue to play the right way and play together as we have throughout the season, while still being around the team and continuing my training.”
If this looks a lot like tanking, well… it does look a lot like tanking.
It’s the right play for Oklahoma City. At 19-25, the Thunder have the eighth-worst record in the NBA, they have lost young star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for an extended period of time due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, and FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR rating system gives OKC a one percent chance of making the playoffs. In what is considered a top-heavy draft, the Thunder making moves that improve the odds they are in the top five in this draft — even if those odds improve only slightly — is the correct move.
Sitting a healthy player like this is rare but not unprecedented. Phoenix did it a few years back with Tyson Chandler. Teams have done it before the trade deadline — most recently Andre Drummond in Cleveland this season — but rarely after the deadline.
It may not be a look the NBA league office likes, but it’s the right move for the Thunder.