When the Atlanta Hawks lost Al Horford last season after just 29 games they not only lost their best player at both ends of the floor, they lost their spiritual leader. Getting Horford back on the floor will be big for the team but having him back in the locker room after what was a tumultuous summer may be even more important. ESPN.com's Michael Wallace caught up with Horford earlier this week as the Hawks began training camp and talked with him about the upcoming season.
Horford is easing his way back into the basketball things and isn't expected to return to full practices until next week but is expected to be ready to go for the regular season opener.
"It's going to be interesting," said Horford, who hopes to resume full practices next week and play in at least two preseason games before the Oct. 29 opener against Toronto. "When I see guys going here live and pretty fast, I definitely wonder. But I feel that once I get out there and the first situation happens when I get hit, or have to go in and wrestle or something, once I get that through, I should be fine."
Horford has an equally important impact to his team off the court and was one of the most sought after interviews at the team's media day earlier this week. He is the longest tenured player on the roster and his opinion on the situations surrounding Bruce Levenson, Danny Ferry and the Hawks franchise carry a lot of weight. Horford was clearly taken aback by the comments made by Ferry about then free agent Luol Deng but he has signaled that he and the team are ready to move forward and was accepting of Ferry's apology.
"When I met with Danny, he seemed very remorseful," Horford said. "I feel like he understood the gravity of what he did. After speaking with him and seeing what he's doing in the community and the things he's trying to do, I felt good. Plus, I know Danny as a person and he's always been great. He's done a lot of things for the Hawks in the years he's been with us."
Don't mistake how much Horford's word means in the locker room. He's been a leader in many ways since he was just a young player on what was then a veteran team. Wallace cites a story by Horford's former teammate Jamal Crawford when a very young Horford stepped to the front of the locker room and addressed his teammates on their accountability. According to Crawford, not many young players could get away with that in many veteran locker rooms.
The Hawks figure once again to be in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race but if they are to seriously challenge for home court advantage in the playoffs it will have a lot to do with Horford's contributions both on and off the court.