Hawks’ Al Horford expanding his game as free agency looms

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Al Horford has expanded the range on his jump shot. (NBAE via Getty Images)
Al Horford has expanded the range on his jump shot. (NBAE via Getty Images)

The NBA’s star-studded free-agent class this summer could include LeBron James and Kevin Durant, yet Atlanta Hawks big man Al Horford is confident he won’t get lost in the crowd.

The nine-year veteran has had a solid career, averaging 14.3 points and nine rebounds per game. Yet he hasn’t stopped expanding his game.

“The NBA game is changing a lot,” Horford, 29, told Yahoo Sports. “I know everyone always says that, but especially these past three seasons I feel like it changed even more. For me, I’m in the process of re-changing some aspects of my game to fit this new mold. It’s kind of forcing me to do some things that I haven’t done in the past.

“As you probably have seen, I’m shooting more from 3-point range. I’m making sure I penetrate more to the basket. Little things you need to be able to do in the new NBA.”

Horford is averaging 15.2 points, seven rebounds and three assists through 49 games this season and is taking a career-high three 3-pointers per game. He’s shooting a respectable 33.1 percent from long distance, hitting 48 of 145 attempts after making a career-high 11 3-pointers last year.

Horford, a three-time All-Star, is making $12 million in the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Atlanta can offer Horford a maximum five-year, $146 million contract, which Horford is seeking, a source told Yahoo Sports.

Atlanta owns Horford’s Bird rights, which allows it to offer more than any other team. The Hawks are interested in re-signing Horford, but at what price remains to be seen.

"Al is a big part of our program and knows how much we value him,” Hawks president and head coach Mike Budenholzer told Yahoo Sports. “Our focus and job remain the same, and that is building the best program possible and establishing a culture that Al and any other player would want to be part of. He is the type of player we want to continue building with now and into the future.”

The Hawks finally appear to be on solid ground under their new ownership group, led by principal owner Tony Ressler and former NBA standout Grant Hill, who is the franchise’s vice chair of the board. All-Star forward Paul Millsap signed a three-year, $59 million contract last offseason, and Atlanta has been one of the East’s top teams for years, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The Hawks are also expected to break ground on a new state-of-the-art practice facility soon.

“The city itself is a great city,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. “People are great. This Hawks’ organization is moving in the right direction. With the new ownership, with the coach, I really feel good about the future of the Hawks.”

The Hawks drafted Horford with the third overall draft pick in 2007 and he wouldn’t mind finishing his career in Atlanta. But the Spanish-speaking Horford, who was born in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, understands the appeal of cities with a more international flavor.

Horford could potentially land more off-court opportunities in much stronger Spanish-speaking NBA markets in Florida, New York, Texas or California.

“Atlanta has the potential for a guy like myself to maximize [the business] part of it,” Horford told Yahoo Sports. “But obviously there are other cities, bigger cities that are more appealing probably [business- and marketing-wise]. The impact would be bigger if that is what you are looking for.”

The Hawks can put together a strong offer from a financial and familiarity standpoint, but are expected to listen to teams that inquire about Horford because they don’t want to risk losing him for nothing, league sources said. The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 18.

Horford is expected to explore free agency this summer, but his mind remains on Atlanta.

“Obviously, my focus right now is on the season, the team and the things I need to do," Horford told Yahoo Sports. "That’s kind of where I am going to leave it.”

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