After spending three years with the Boston Celtics following a nine-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks, Al Horford tested free agency for the second time in his career. Looking for a fresh start after a tough season in Boston, Horford shocked the basketball world as he landed with Boston's rival, the Philadelphia 76ers.
He earned a four-year deal worth $109 million with the Sixers. Although Horford's on-court fit was a concern from the jump, the Sixers hoped to not only get a reliable veteran power forward in the versatile big man, but they were looking forward to having a top-notch backup center for Joel Embiid as well.
As we know now, the start of the Horford era in Philadelphia was far from ideal. In 67 games with the Sixers, Horford averaged just 11 points, which marked the fewest amount since his second year in the NBA. During his lone season in Philly, former Sixers head coach Brett Brown and General Manager Elton Brand stressed that the Horford signing would pay off the most in the playoffs.
When the Sixers entered the 2020 NBA playoffs as the sixth seed, they ironically faced Horford's former team in the first round. Unfortunately for the Sixers, Horford didn't have a revengeful series. Averaging just seven points and seven rebounds, Horford didn't have much of an impact -- and the Sixers were swept.
Even though he had several years left on his contract, Horford's future in Philadelphia was already in question. And when the Sixers made significant changes by hiring Daryl Morey to run the front office and replacing Brett Brown with Doc Rivers, Horford was on his way out on the night of the 2020 NBA Draft.
In a move that netted the Sixers their veteran forward Danny Green, Horford was shipped off to the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder. After appearing in 28 games with the Thunder, the veteran big man got the rest of the year off to rest and stay in shape as it was evident he would get a fresh start for a third-straight season.
That fresh start happened to be in a familiar city as Horford was traded to the Celtics during the 2021 offseason. For the first time since leaving the Sixers, Horford faced them on Wednesday night. After his team defeated the Sixers by one point, Horford recalled his single stint in Philadelphia.
"That year was a difficult year for me in Philly," Horford admitted. "No question about it." Although Horford remained professional during his short-lived tenure in Philadelphia, the veteran center has made it clear on several occasions that his departure from the team came from a mutual decision as it was a tough time for him.
"I'm very grateful because my faith kept me strong through that time," Horford continued. "It was a very low point for me at the beginning when it all went down, looking at having to go to Oklahoma City with me in my 14th year."
Boston's first-year head coach had a similar run in Philly as Horford. After spending several years as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, Ime Udoka joined Philly's staff as Brett Brown's top assistant ahead of the 2019-2020 season.
After Philly's disappointing run, which led to Brown getting fired, Udoka packed up and went to Brooklyn before landing his ample opportunity with the Celtics. On Wednesday, Udoka also recalled Horford's forgettable tenure with the Sixers and made it clear that the way everything turned out at first left many unhappy, including himself.
"None of us loved the way it went in Philadelphia for him and the team in general," said Udoka. "It sounded good [at the time]. Joel (Embiid) missed about 20 games a year, so you had your backup in play that could also play with him. But we just never found our footing with him. I don't think we used him properly with some of the matchups we had in there."
Although Horford's rough patch was unfortunate, it seems the 35-year-old former five-time All-Star is happy once again as he's back in action with the Celtics. And on Wednesday, his team defeated the Sixers with a lot of help from his strong performance early on in the matchup.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.