Like most players in the NBA, Atlanta Hawks All-Star center Al Horford has had sufficient time to let the LeBron James-Miami Heat merger marinate on the brain for a spell. Understanding that there was a sudden and radical paradigm shift in the Eastern Conference — Boston also added Shaquille O’Neal while Chicago fortified their squad with Carlos Boozer — Horford was consciously and subconsciously motivated to step up his game in order to help the Hawks keep pace with the improved conference powers.
“I think there is room for growth. There definitely is. We have to work harder if we want to be any better because, man, the East … Milwaukee is better. Chicago is better. Miami is better, it goes without saying. It’s going to be an interesting year for us,” Horford says.
Besides the aforementioned squads, who all upgraded, Horford has fiscal reasons for continuing his upward trajectory in play and team presence. He is in final year of his rookie-scale contract and boasts his first All-Star selection in 2009-10. The Hawks could offer Horford a five-year contract worth up to $82 million by Oct. 31, or they could make him a restricted free agent at season‘s end.
“I haven’t heard anything yet,” Horford told the media. “I think anything [might happen] once training camp gets going. I am just kind of leaving that to the owners and my representation and just seeing what happens. I am going to keep working hard and keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
He’s also working hard to further the game’s global appeal. Horford was honored to be asked to take part in the Basketball Without Borders Americas program that ended in Mexico City after stops in other far-reaching countries. Horford loved giving back to children who reminded him of his roots in the Dominican Republic.
Returning to the team and ready to begin tapping it up, Horford expressed excitement about how the upcoming season will play out.
“… I’m excited personally [about] what coach Drew has been talking about,” Horford says. “He wants to change the offense a little bit and do things a little differently. Having said that, it all depends on the kind of level that our key guys like Joe Johnson and Josh Smith [reach] coming in. Mentally, I think that’s going to be a part of how good we are as a team.”