Al Horford and the eternal center debate

Joe Robbins

Do the Atlanta Hawks need a starting caliber center next to Al Horford to be successful?

NBA.com's Sekou Smith previews the Atlanta Hawks for the upcoming season and questions whether or not Danny Ferry should have acquired a starting caliber center to pair with Horford in the front court. Its something that has been talked about around these parts often and even by Horford himself. He talked about that exact situation some with Smith during the team's media day earlier this month.

"Yeah, you're right about that," said Horford, who watched free agency come and go without Hawks general manager Danny Ferry bringing in that starting center to help take the load off down low. "That's something that I did question when it didn't happen. It takes a toll on your body physically that outweigh you like that. But the way that they have portrayed it to me is we're trying to play faster, get up and down the floor and get the pick and roll movement going. It's not the ideal scenario for me, but I have to work with what I have and make the most of it."

The Hawks hit the offseason with a ton cap room yet they emerged with a new PF and a couple of center options that are likely best suited to be reserves in Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon. They pursued Dwight Howard in free agency but he ultimately chose Houston. They were reportedly willing to take a flyer on often injured center Andrew Bynum but he ended up in Cleveland. They also resisted the urge to enter a bidding war for Al Jefferson who agreed to a three-year deal worth $41 million with the Bobcats.

The fact is every team is looking for size but impact centers aren't readily available. Often those that are aren't exactly complete players. Jefferson for instance is a wonderful post scorer that would have given Atlanta a solid No. 1 option in the post but is hardly the rim protector that needs to be paired with Horford. Is Jefferson really a player that can get you to a championship level? Would it have made sense to let someone like Josh Smith go only to sign Jefferson to a similar contract? Tiago Splitter was another name that was talked about briefly but he brings countless offensive limitations yet commanded a four-year deal worth $36 million to stay in San Antonio.

I don't think the franchise would mind at all to have an impact center next to Horford. The team drafted Lucas Nogueira in the first round of the 2013 Draft and you have to think that the most optimistic thinking would be that he'd eventually develop into a player capable of playing next to Horford. They pursued Howard and Bynum but neither worked out.

The lack of impact talent at the center position is the primary reason that the league has grown smaller in recent years. As Smith points out in his article, the Hawks will look to combat that by playing faster as much of the league has. Its not like Horford isn't a capable option at center having garnered two All-Star selections at the position. Often he is the best center option available and would be an upgrade for many teams in the league.

There is no easy answer. The Hawks could have overpaid for a retread center to run out there but that doesn't really fit into the flexible salary scale that the team is trying to rebuild with. On the other hand, it is clearly an area that Horford wants addressed sooner rather than later.

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