Al Horford normally injects the oil back into his joints at this time of year. His team probably had a long playoff streak and, in an effort to lessen wear and tear, the 35-year-old spent the summer recovering.
Not so much this fall, however.
“At the start of this year I’m feeling really good,” Horford said after the Celtics practice on Thursday. “I feel as good as I probably felt in my NBA career, to be honest. So I’m very excited to feel that and to have the opportunity to be here.
It turned out there was an advantage to being traded in Purgatory last season, when Philadelphia general manager Daryl Morey sent Horford to the G-League staging area and clearing house. Draft Pick, otherwise known as Oklahoma City.
Horford, in transit and realizing he wouldn’t be a Thunder player for a long time, coached more than he played. Mostly – and this particular part of the OKC experience is now paying off – he may have bought a year, physically.
Ime Udoka, who was on staff during Horford’s only season in Philadelphia, compared the result now to Horford discovering the fountain of youth.
“It’s noticeable. Whether he found the fountain of youth or it was just enough time that he didn’t play every game last year in Oklahoma City, ”said the Celtics coach. “I mentioned having him in Philadelphia where he missed a few games here and there, but for the most part he’s come back in shape. He has looked great since the day he arrived at training camp and explained how he takes care of his body and what an opportunity it is. And he’s happy to be back. So you can see with his body and how he plays, he looks lively, fresh and rejuvenated. We love what we see of him.
Horford won’t disagree.
“I think for me it all started in Oklahoma City with their training staff there, their group, working with them,” he said. “And then moving on to the summer, I had a lot of time during the summer to really (work). Usually when you are done through the playoffs you are so tired you are exhausted you have to do certain things to get back to where you need to be. And this summer I was healthy, I was able to follow him to the weight room, conditioning, start building him on the pitch as I wanted.
Horford’s season at Oklahoma City also reintroduced him to the art of learning. Indeed, he had almost no choice, pushed as he was in the youngest middle of the league.
“Last year was a great learning experience for me. It was a really good group that I was with at OKC with, ”said Horford. “I almost felt like a rookie, to be honest, because there was so much teaching going on, and Coach Daigneault there, and their staff, we were watching a lot of movies, and I’m learning, and they’re talking about cuts, and defensively what we have to do, and how we have to play. And as you’ve seen, the NBA keeps changing.
“It’s like what I noticed, it’s changing even faster now than we were playing two or three years ago,” he said. “There for me it was a great opportunity to do it, and I really took advantage of it. Not only to learn the game, but also to take care of myself and be back in good health. For me that was a big thing, and I feel like they helped me get to those positions with the Thunder organization.
His leadership skills have also improved. When Horford speaks now with the familiar faces of Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, it’s as the more vocal elder.
“Really just say what I see and talk to guys when I need it. And sort of step in and do more of that,” he said. “In the past sometimes you’d focus on yourself. – even where I was just leading by example, that sort of thing. But now I’m just more comfortable and a lot of guys, I know them well, so it’s just easier to talk to them and let them know what I think about something, and I feel like I was more vocal than the first time.