Posted Sep 9 2010 10:16PM
George Hill heard those rumors earlier this summer about how he's made Tony Parker expendable. Sounds nice in theory, but such talk isn't the reason Hill pushed his body this offseason harder than ever before.
Going into his third year with the Spurs, Hill is doing all he can to make sure he remains essential to the program. That's all he can control.
"Everyone is expendable outside of Tim Duncan," Hill reminded.
It would make sense for Hill to feel more secure. The 24-year-old guard from a tiny school (IUPUI) in basketball-crazed Indianapolis made a big-time jump last season, earning the trust of his veteran teammates and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Hill felt he only scratched the surface after starting a career-high 43 games during the regular season and eight of 10 playoff games. Many of the starts were necessitated by injuries to Parker and/or Manu Ginobili, though Hill proved he belonged through his play and the team's success.
He's dedicated the last few months to making the same kind of progress Parker and Ginobili made early in their careers. After taking a needed break following the San Antonio's second round exit, Hill got back into the gym in July and hasn't left.
He's trained four times a week, usually Monday-Thursday, starting at 8 a.m. with shooting coach Chip Engelland and developmental assistant Chad Forcier. The sessions at the Spurs practice facility typically lasted nearly five hours. Hill described it as "tuning up his game."
"I didn't want anything easy," he said. "I wanted it difficult, so I could learn to capitalize on difficult things so they become easy. Everything they've been throwing at me has been difficult and different, something that I'm not used to."
When asked specifically what's been the most challenging, Hill said reaching his physical limits to the point where his body couldn't take it anymore. The goal for a player who famously came into the league with three percent body fat was to train so hard this summer that he wouldn't wear down at any point this season.
But doesn't everyone work hard every summer or at least claim to do so? What makes Hill any different? He doesn't claim to be. It goes back to keeping a job.
"It's the NBA," he said. "Players come and go. Players come in every year trying to take your spot."
Hill worked to develop a teardrop floater in the lane -- Parker's specialty -- and extend his jumper past the 3-point line. Extensive time was spent in the weight room to add quickness and explosiveness. The mental side wasn't ignored. Hill studied the intricacies of the point guard position, such as reading defensives more efficiently and improving in pick-and-roll scenarios.
"Hopefully we'll see all of it," said Hill, who was second last season in voting for Most Improved Player.
If it sounds as if the Spurs are grooming their eventual replacement for Parker, well, maybe they are. The 2007 Finals MVP is entering the last year of his contract and there's been plenty of speculation that Parker has eyes for a bigger market. Maybe that's true.
Or perhaps the Spurs are pushing Hill along, with his blessing, because it's in the franchise's best interests to improve the team's talent level across the board. Parker may very well end up signing an extension, as Ginobili did last late last season in the final year of his contract, get traded or move on. Whatever the case, Hill's progression is independent of Parker's future.
"I really don't pay that much attention, because those are decisions for our front office and our coaching staff," Hill said. "If that's what they feel they need to do, then they'll make that jump. I normally don't pay attention to it because at this time I know that Tony is my teammate and I love Tony as a teammate. I love playing alongside of him. I'm just happy that he's still here and part of the Spurs organization."
Hill has also taken representing the organization to heart. Through his own initiative, Hill conducted a series of camps and clinics for children throughout South Texas. He's visited Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen, and has trips to Edinburg and Eagle Pass in the works.
The Hoosier native doesn't have any previous ties to the Rio Grande Valley, other than their shared connection to the Silver and Black.
"The fans there maybe sometimes get overlooked," Hill said. "I tell them the players out here are thinking about you and want to say 'thank you' for all the support you've given the Spurs over the years."
Though not a make-or-break season, Hill still feels the upcoming campaign is critical. The Spurs have the makings of a championship contender heading into training camp later this month should several pieces fall into the place.
Hill knows he's one of them.
"The third year is one of the most important in your basketball life," Hill said. "This is where everything happens from here on out. I still think I have a lot to prove to my coaches, showing I can be a backup point guard or a starting point guard, wherever they ask me to play. I'm still working to get better.
"The main thing with all of this is to get the Spurs back to where they normally are, which is competing for an NBA title."
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