Danny Ferry just reminded me of this: “The first time we ever talked — two years ago in Centennial Tower (where the Atlanta Hawks’ offices are located) — you said, ‘You might have to trade Al Horford to get where you want to go.’ ”
Not that I have a one-track mind — and not that I know anything about anything — but here it is 2014 and I’m still thinking the same. With Ferry as general manager, the Hawks have become a pretty good team with a very good coach and a clear idea of how they want to play. As Ferry said this morning, “I like and I value Al. I think he’s an important part of our group. He fits the values we have and fits how we want to play.”
I would disagree with none of the above. He’s an excellent player and a terrific teammate. If the NBA were a perfect world, no team would ever part with a player like Horfy. But there has been speculation that the Cleveland Cavaliers, who hold the draft’s No. 1 pick yet again, might be willing to trade it for an established big man, which Horford, even coming off a second torn pectoral muscle, assuredly is.
Trouble is, Horford isn’t quite a superstar, and superstars rule the basketball realm. Superstars also tend to be landed via the draft, as opposed to arriving in trade or as free agents. The question, then: If you’re the Hawks, would you make such a deal for the No. 1 pick?
A week ago I’d have said yes. Today I’m saying no. The best prospect in the draft is — or at least was — Joel Embiid, the Kansas center. Embiid just underwent surgery for a broken bone and isn’t expected to play again for four to six months, and that’s not the worst of it. He broke the navicular in his right foot, which is considered in basketball circles a bad bone to break.
As Dr. Ben Wedro told Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk: “In a large 7-footer, it may be that the bones in his foot may not be able to support the size of his body.”
There’s almost no chance Embiid will be taken No. 1 overall Thursday night. There’s a chance he could slide out of the top five. Foot injuries are tricky, especially for big men. (Ask Bill Walton or Yao Ming, whose brilliant NBA careers were compromised by navicular breaks.) If the Hawks, who hold the No. 15 pick, could trade up and land him at No. 5 or thereabouts, that would be a risk worth taking — but not if the price includes Horford.
There’s no way the Hawks should trade Horford now because there’s no one in the draft who’s guaranteed to be a better player than Horfy is already. Embiid’s injury casts a shadow over his future; after Embiid, his KU teammate Andrew Wiggins has the greatest potential, but there’s a reason he’s no longer being called The Next LeBron.
A healthy Embiid would have, at least in my addled mind, been enough to make the Hawks think hard about dealing their best player. The point, for better or worse, has been mooted.