Posted Dec 9 2009 12:57PM
Asked if he had any advice for Greg Oden, Grant Hill paused for a good 10 seconds. Emotions were stirred.
"It's tough," Hill sighed. "It's not the exact same injury, but the idea of being out and getting knocked down, and going through the ordeal of rehab once and then twice ... you have to try to not lose your mind."
Frustration, helplessness, anger, depression and wondering if it's just time to give it all up are feelings all too familiar to Hill. The six-time All-Star had nearly four years of his prime taken away by ankle surgeries, along with other injuries and medical issues.
Hill felt snakebit. Oden can relate. But as bleak as the present may look for the Blazers' 21-year-old 7-footer, he isn't the first to have his career derailed by injuries. And he won't be the last.
Prevailing over injury, again, is the challenge that awaits Oden after Saturday's freak injury -- fractured left patella -- ended his season after just 21 games. The first pick of the 2007 Draft missed what should have been his rookie campaign in 2007-08 recovering from microfracture surgery and played 61 games for Portland last season dealing with a myriad of physical problems.
"Certainly he wants to keep playing and wants to continue," said Hill, in his 15th year overall and third with the Suns. "You just have to believe that you'll get back and use it as an opportunity to learn as much as he can about the injury, about the body and what he needs to do, not just to get back from the injury, but to be healthy the rest of his career."
Hill, 37, can teach a course in human anatomy. He became consumed with learning all there was to know about his ankle during his rehabilitation. But his lessons in psychology may be more beneficial.
"I got to a point where I was tired of being mad at it and sort of looked at it like I could get something good out of it," Hill said. "Greg has to ignore all the critics, the people who are going to doubt him, the fans who say they shouldn't have drafted him, and work on getting himself right.
"It's probably more mental and emotional than physical. The physical part will happen."
Hill felt lucky, if that's the right term, that his ankle problems began six years into his career. He had achieved a level of success in the league, was married and had started a family. Hill felt a level of balance between his personal and professional life.
Oden, single and without children, hasn't had the chance to get his career started.
"The thing he has to realize is you go from being a great high school player, with all those accolades and attention, to being a great college player, his team got to the finals and he was the first pick in the Draft, and sometimes you feel what you do defines you," Hill said. "It really doesn't. It's a bit of humbling experience, but it's a good experience in that it gives you perspective and understanding. At some point you're not going to play anymore. It's hard to realize that when you're young, so hopefully down the road he'll learn to appreciate the difference."
Hill isn't the only one in the Phoenix locker room that understands Oden's plight. Amar'e Stoudemire has three knee surgeries on his ledger, including microfracture at the height of his career. His season ended prematurely last year due to a detached retina.
Stoudemire knows Oden well and said his heart sunk when he heard the news of his latest injury.
"I've never been through anything as bad as Greg," Stoudemire said. "I know he's probably beating himself over the head wondering, 'Why me?'
"He just has to keep his sanity, and understand he's a great player and get back to that level. It's a matter of your determination and your individual will to get back to where you rightfully belong."
His team is in a tie with the third-best record in the Western Conference. He's just not sure if anyone can catch No. 1.
That isn't a defeatist stance. It's reality.
"I don't know who is going to be able to beat them," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of the Lakers. "I don't know where their weakness is."
Gentry went through the Lakers' roster with a healthy sense of awe while laying down the facts. After hearing him calmly go through Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest, there's not much room to argue.
"They got the best player in the game," Gentry said. "They got size. They're versatile as hell. Lamar can guard a 2, 3, 4 and a 5. They can play small or big. They've got shot-blockers and rebounders. They've got skilled big guys you can throw it into the post to."
Sounds like a pretty good setup.
"If you're into that kind of stuff," Gentry quipped.
A really big check from his old boss apparently hasn't tipped the scales on Don Nelson's coaching career. The Warriors skipper recently received approximately $7 million from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, according to sources, stemming from a contract dispute stretching back more than three years.
Nelson isn't with Golden State on the current road trip, but he insists he isn't going anywhere this season. Even if pneumonia has knocked the 69-year-old sideline legend on his backside, Nellie plans to be back on the bench when he's well, which the team hopes will coincide with the Dec. 16 return to the Bay Area. Top assistant Keith Smart is currently leading the Warriors.
Nelson is signed through the end of next season for the tidy sum of $12 million. While that's serious coin for the three-time Coach of the Year, some may speculate Cuban's sizable cash infusion could influence his decision to step down. His singular focus appears to be getting healthy and finishing out his contract. He's also closing in on the league's all-time wins mark.
Nelson and Cuban were engaged in a bitter dispute over deferred salary, with Nelson prevailing in binding arbitration in June 2008. Cuban didn't pay for more than a year. Asked if the issue has been settled, both Cuban and Nelson declined comment.
1. With an extra 9,000 in the stands, not to mention boffo TV ratings, the Sixers essentially recouped Allen Iverson's pro-rated and non-guaranteed $1.3 million salary in one night. That's a win.
2. Don't look now, but 2010 is three weeks away.
3. Did Black Friday extend to surgeries in Portland? They're going down fast in the Pacific Northwest, with seven Blazers, including coach Nate McMillan, already going under the knife this season.
4. Do opposing coaches secretly light up victory cigars when Nate Robinson hits 20 minutes?
5. More inappropriate display of dancing: LeBron James on the sidelines during a game or Mark Madsen on the stage during the title celebration?
AG: Difficult leaving San Antonio?
DG: I left there on good terms. I knew it was all business from the day I got there to the day I left. It was a great group of guys over there. I enjoyed playing with them and trying to make a playoff run.
AG: Now you're in Dallas.
DG: I switched sides to the team that beat us. Spurs fans don't like it too much, but it wasn't my choice.
AG: Gregg Popovich talked to you about coming back.
DG: Yeah, he talked to me about coming back, but we didn't structure a good enough deal. Other than that we kept in contact. I love Pop to death. He's one of the best coaches I've played for and I learned a lot in my short time there, and that whole organization is just first class.
AG: So why Dallas?
DG: Wanted to win was my first option. Second, play. Third, most money out there. I had all three of them.
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