Philadelphia 76ers: Al Horford continues to damage his trade value

Al Horford | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
Al Horford | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers are approaching a dark place.

There was optimism around the Philadelphia 76ers last summer. Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick left for greener pastures, but the arrival of Al Horford provided some measure of relief. He was a nuisance for Philadelphia in a past life, and his versatility next to Joel Embiid — on paper — completed the best frontcourt in basketball.

At least, that’s how many viewed it last summer. Horford would stabilize the defense in Embiid’s absence, space the floor in his presence, and provide the do-it-all, Swiss-Army-knife tool kit he had possessed his entire career in Atlanta and Boston.

Fate, however, did not will it so. Horford is undergoing arguably his worst season to date. His shooting percentages are paddling Styx, his scoring numbers are middling, and his defense has transformed from a jail-break advantage to one of Philadelphia’s foremost weaknesses.

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The numbers bare naked Horford’s struggles. He’s averaging 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 0.9 blocks in 30.8 minutes per game. Brett Brown even moved Horford to the bench, at least when the starting five is healthy.

Horford no longer looks the part of a multi-time All-Star — someone who many considered a top-20 player as recently as last season. One of the smartest and most intuitive big men on the planet, Horford has always found ways to impact winning. Father Time is undefeated.

Personnel has played a role in Horford’s struggles, and he has not been used in his most comfortable spots this season. Adjustments were inevitable next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, two budding superstars who occupy similar spaces on the court.

Still, a more spry version of Horford would have found ways to fit in and contribute — especially on defense, where his mobility has long been a strength. Now Horford finds himself bolted to the floor on defense, unable to defend in space and constantly exploited by the league’s dynamic scoring bigs.

This has an obvious impact on Horford’s trade value. Pedigree only goes so far when you’re 33 years old, and Horford has done himself no favors if a departure and a new role are his wishes. If not, the Sixers will certainly want to explore the market for better fits next summer.

How much the Sixers can get for Horford remains a question. A desperate team with a negligent front office — think Sacramento and Phoenix — may attempt to direct Horford to the Fountain of Youth. But even a negligent and woefully incompetent front office won’t give up significant assets for Horford.

In fact, Horford may require assets to move — as in, Philadelphia will need to attach draft picks to move Horford’s contract off the books. Even then, it’s debatable as to whether or not any team will offer the Sixers a comparably talented player in return.

Moving Horford does not magically move Philadelphia below the cap line, nor does it insure a better product. If the Sixers cannot get a better fit or a better contract in return, the future then becomes hazy. Horford may have to ride it out in Philadelphia.

In a recent Sports Illustrated mailbag, Chris Mannix asked an anonymous league executive about Horford’s value on the market. The quote, unsurprisingly, does not shine the most positive light.

"“I would be shocked if he has value. They might have to include an asset for someone to take him off their books. He has not looked good this year. His movement, it just seems a step slow, on both ends. I think they have to try to trade him. He obviously can’t play with Embiid. The goal should be to divide that salary over a couple of players and make them deeper. But I don’t know how they are going to do that.”"

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There is a chance the price for Horford is too high on the Sixers’ end, not vice versa. This has been a dark season for Horford and the Sixers, and there haven’t been any meaningful signs of improvement. Next summer is pivotal — again.