Sports

Horford: Midseason OKC pause a mutual decision

Oklahoma City Thunder center Al Horford addressed the unique situation of him shutting down for the team’s final 28 games, calling it a mutual decision that was always a possibility since his arrival to the franchise, accelerated by the injury to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

“We’ve had great communication since the moment I got here, and leading to that point, once Shai’s injury happened, it just kind of brought that question even sooner,” Horford said. “Both of us understanding that the team also wanted to play younger guys and see what they could do with their development, and for me, for myself, health-wise, what’s best for me, putting me in the best position to be able to play at a high level for many years to come.”

On March 27, OKC announced that center Horford would be a healthy scratch for the remainder of the season. At the time Horford was shut down, the Thunder were 19-25. As they pivoted toward playing younger players and focusing on development, they went 3-25 the rest of the way, which included a 14-game losing streak and a span in which they were outscored by 490 points over a 25-game stretch, the largest margin in NBA history.

Horford’s shutdown coincided with an injury to Gilgeous-Alexander (plantar fascia tear) that forced him to miss the final 29 games. For the most part, Horford remained with the team, staying involved in games and huddles at home games. Horford did not travel with the team for road games. And for now, he remains with the Thunder.

“Al is on the team, and Al is on our roster,” coach Mark Daigneault said. “I think our staff has done a great job with him during this period of time at keeping him sharp and ready and having a plan for him and being with him in that plan in the way that we can support it.

“He’s under our umbrella right now, and we’re going to be present with him in the offseason just like we are with the rest of the group,” Daigneault said.

Horford, 34, has two years and $53.5 million left on his contract, with a partial guarantee of $14.5 million in the final season (2022-23). Oklahoma City is expected to work toward trading Horford this summer, working with him and his representation to find a new destination.

“I’m sure that I’ll be talking with the team and we’ll figure out what’s best,” Horford said of a trade.

Acquired from Philadelphia before the season, Horford was solid in 28 games this season, averaging 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

The Thunder have embarked on a clear rebuilding plan, focusing on drafting and development. With Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, a possible top-five pick and a war chest of draft capital in the future, OKC is well set up to turn things around. Asked whether the Thunder’s bright future would make him prefer to stick around, Horford left that door open.

“It’s a conversation that, when it comes up, I’ll have to talk with the team, and [general manager] Sam [Presti] most importantly, about it and kind of go from there,” Horford said. “I’ve just been very impressed with how well the organization — it is here, all the resources that we have and all the players that we have. It’s something that really excites me.”

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