Al Horford is 35 years old and entering his 15th NBA season, and he's feeling like he's in the best physical shape of his entire career.
As absurd as that statement may seem, it came straight from the mouth of the veteran big man Thursday afternoon following the third day of Celtics training camp. And so far, he has backed those words up with his play on the court.
First-year Celtics head coach Ime Udoka is impressed with Horford’s conditioning early on, and his only theory is that five-time All-Star may have “found the Fountain of Youth.”
“He’s looked great since the day he came into training camp,” Udoka said after practice. “He talked about how he took care of his body and how much of an opportunity this is. And he’s happy to be back (in his second stint with the Celtics). So you can see with his body and how he’s playing, he looks lively, fresh, and looks rejuvenated. We’re loving what we’re seeing from him.”
However, Horford wouldn’t reveal to Celtics.com where he found the Fountain of Youth. Instead, he credited his rejuvenation to the extended period of time off he’s had, having not played in an NBA game in more than six months.
Last March, the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder decided to shut down Horford so that some of their younger players could have the opportunity to play more minutes. The decision capped his season at just 28 games, during which he averaged 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, slightly exceeding his career averages of 13.9 PPG and 3.3 APG.
However, Horford was totally on board with OKC’s line of thinking and despite not playing, he says that the Thunder training staff did an excellent job of helping him to stay in shape. So not being on a playoff-bound team for the first time in his career turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Transitioning into the offseason, Horford said, “I had a lot of time over the summer to really (work). Usually when you’re finished with the playoffs, you’re so tired, you’re depleted, you’ve gotta do some things to kind of get back to where you need to. And this summer I was healthy, I was able to get after it in the weight room, conditioning, start building it on the court like I wanted to. So going into this year, I feel really good. I feel as good as I’ve felt probably in my NBA career, to be honest. So I’m just pretty excited to feel this way and have an opportunity to be here.”
Horford also has a significant opportunity to start, according to Udoka, even with all the young talent and depth the Celtics have on their roster.
“We feel versatility is an asset for us, with the lineups we can start, but a guy like Al is making a huge case obviously, the way he's come in and looked and played, the leadership and things he's brought,” Udoka said. “I mentioned some of the versatility with what he can do as far as pass the ball, handle it and shoot it, so he's an asset there.”
Such leadership goes a long way with Boston’s young group. It’s inspiring to them to see how hard their only 30-plus teammate is working and how much effort he’s putting into maintaining his physique.
Celtics newcomer Josh Richardson took note of such when he was Horford's teammate during the 2019-20 season in Philadelphia.
“Al is very professional,” said the 28-year-old wing. “He does a lot of things day-in, day-out, and it might not be something super loud or outrageous, but he's always gonna be here and he's always gonna be getting his work in and going about his business. So that's what I appreciate about him.”
It’s difficult not to appreciate the dedication that Horford has shown throughout his career, a dedication that only grows stronger as he inches into the second half of his 30s. For a 6-foot-9, 240-pound center, he’s proven to be an anomaly as he enters his 15th season feeling as fresh as he’s ever felt.
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