Bill Shanks

Hawks will survive Horford’s departure

Al Horford is set to sign a contract with Boston this week.
Al Horford is set to sign a contract with Boston this week. AP

For about 24 hours, the thought of pairing newly signed free agent center Dwight Howard with four-time All-Star Al Horford on the Atlanta Hawks’ roster was exciting. But that dream died Saturday night when Horford announced he is bolting for the Boston Celtics.

So now, instead of wondering how much better the Hawks would be with Howard at center, Horford finally moving to power forward and Paul Millsap moving to small forward, the Hawks have basically traded Horford for Howard.

Most will scoff at that, thinking Howard is a pouting baby who has caused problems in Orlando, Los Angeles and Houston. But seeing how Horford left Atlanta, maybe the Hawks got lucky.

This will not be the popular opinion. Most will blame the Hawks for not going the extra mile to make sure their plan of a Howard-Horford duo did not fall apart. Most will look at how Horford has acted in his nine years in Atlanta and how Howard has been a problem and wonder why that would be an upgrade.

Sure, the Hawks could have given Horford the max, which might have cost only $6 million more. But they reportedly offered Horford a five-year, $136-million-dollar contract. That wasn’t enough? Horford instead took a four-year, $113 million deal. So despite what Horford had said a few months ago, his heart was not in Atlanta.

The Hawks made the playoffs in all nine seasons of Horford’s tenure in Atlanta. That’s great. But maybe it was time for him to go. Horford was always a power forward playing center, and his point and rebound per game numbers have dipped in the past few years.

This is not kicking a player as he leaves town. I was always skeptical about giving Horford a max contract, mainly because of his age. Did the Hawks really want to get stuck with Horford for five years, when his numbers will likely be ordinary when he hits 35?

Howard, who like Horford is also 30 years old, is signed for just three years. Even though his behavior has been questionable at times, he’s coming home. And haven’t we longed for years for a free agent star to pick the Hawks? Howard is not what he was a few years ago, but he’s still a star.

Horford’s father told the Boston media his son partly left Atlanta because the Celtics’ fans supported their team, hinting he didn’t appreciate Hawks’ fans. Well, again, maybe it was just time for Horford to go. The Hawks made the playoffs with Horford, but it’s not like they won a championship to make him earn a lifetime contract.

Let’s see what Howard can do in his hometown. Let’s see if he could be inspired to have several more solid seasons. Let’s see if Howard can finally give the Hawks a true center and pair with Millsap to give the team a better combo than the Horford-Millsap duo from the past three years.

Dennis Schroder will take over for Jeff Teague as the point guard. Schroder is a 23-year-old who has spent three years learning on the job. He’s ready. We don’t know what the offense will do with Schroder playing 10 minutes more per game.

The Hawks likely will add more to the roster, so the offseason is not finished. Just because Horford is gone does not mean the entire roster will not look better by early November.

Horford was a fine player for the Hawks, but when he announced Saturday he was leaving you would have thought Dominique Wilkins had been traded. Horford was no Wilkins, and the Hawks will survive.

We’ll see if Howard will do well, but maybe the Hawks needed a shakeup. The Joe Johnson-Josh Smith-Horford era is now finally over. While it would have been nice to see a Horford-Howard duo, maybe it’s time to see some new combinations.

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