Denton: Hill Reflects Back on Magic Days, The Good and Bad

Grant Hill

By John Denton
March 25, 2014

ORLANDO – Just like any Orlando Magic fan old enough to remember the team from the 2000-01 season and on, Grant Hill plays the all-too-familiar ``what-if’’ game that haunted the franchise for years.

Hill signed a seven-year free agent contract with $92.88 million in 2000 along with Tracy McGrady, and the two of them were supposed to make the Magic championship contenders. But those dreams never materialized because Hill – who was on crutches at the time of his signing – could never get beyond several debilitating fractures to his left ankle.

Hill saw his first four seasons cut painfully short by ankle injuries. And after he made the NBA All-Star Game in 2004, Hill’s ankle gave way again, causing him to miss the entire 2006-07 season. And after a sports hernia issue cut into his final season, Hill ended up playing just 200 of a possible 774 games during his seven seasons in Orlando. That means he played just 25.8 percent of the time and was stuck on the sidelines nearly three-fourths of his time with the Magic.

Hill said from time to time, his 12-year-old daughter, Myla, will put up YouTube footage of his playing days and realize that he was an elite-level player prior to the ankle injuries that, literally, nearly killed him. Once in 2006, Hill had to be rushed to the emergency room when his body went into convulsions and his temperature spiked to unhealthy levels following an infection from a surgery.

Hill kept on coming back, and he pointed out that his final six years in the NBA following his time in Orlando was, ``in a weird sort of way a highlight of my career.’’

``I do play the what-if game had I been healthy. I don’t do it often, but I do think about it,’’ Hill said on Tuesday before being honored by the Magic as part of the franchise’s celebration of its 25th anniversary season. ``My 12-year-old, when she started to understand what I did and follow the game, we were in Phoenix and I was a role player. So she used to think I was a scrub. If we were playing Miami or Cleveland, she would say, `You’re playing LeBron and he’s going to kill you, dad, or Ginobili is going to kill you.’ I’d get no love or respect from my own daughter.

``So every once in a while (Myla) will go on YouTube and she’ll pull up some highlight – maybe from one season here in Orlando or my time in Detroit – and she’ll say, `Dad, you were really good. You actually could play!’’’ Hill continued. ``When she shows it to me I start thinking, `Man, if I hadn’t gotten hurt, T-Mac was so good, and this, that and the other.’ But I don’t think about it too much to be honest with you.’’

Hill, who retired following last season, said he was delighted that the Magic called and wanted him to be a part of the ``Legends Nights’’ ceremonies even though his time in Orlando didn’t go quite so well. Hill left the Magic in 2008 when the organization informed him that it wanted to go in a different direction with Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard as leaders. Fans booed him for that, and Hill said he totally understood. He said getting to come back Tuesday night and be honored was almost like coming full circle with the Magic organization.

``I’m OK with whatever the reaction might be,’’ said Hill, who still lives in Orlando and occasionally attends Magic games when he’s not doing TV work for Turner Sports. ``I’m glad that you get to come full circle and bring closure.

``I know my best moments weren’t necessarily here, but I’m glad that some guys who had some magical moments – no pun intended – that the Penny Hardaways, Tracy McGradys got to come back and they were received well,’’ Hill added. ``As great as they were, and while things might not have ended ideally, but they were able to come back and be recognized. … To have the Pat Garritys, Dennis Scotts and I’ll lump myself into that circle, it’s good to have some closure. So I had no trepidation (coming back to be honored).’’

POINT GUARD PROGRESS: Clearly more comfortable at the point guard position every game that he starts there, Magic rookie Victor Oladipo’s mission now is to put together a complete game.

Oladipo recently had strong starts against Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers, but his play fell off after halftime and the turnover numbers piled up. And in a game against Utah last Saturday, Oladipo shook off some poor first-half shooting with a solid second half, including a go-ahead jumper in the final minute.

Oladipo, who started his fourth straight game at point guard on Tuesday in place of the injured Jameer Nelson (sore left knee), is still trying to put together a complete game while initiating the offense from the point. Against the Lakers on Sunday, he shot the ball well for 21 points and handed out 10 assists, but he also committed eight turnovers. Oladipo knows full well that he is still very much a work in progress at the point guard position.

``I’ve just got to continue getting better and it’s not going to be perfect every night,’’ Oladipo said. ``I’ve got to keep growing, keep learning, keep watching film and keep getting better within games as well.’’

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn, who often watches film with Oladipo and gives him tips on playing the point guard position, sees some great growth from the rookie with his ability to drive into the defense and then find the open man. He came into Tuesday’s game against Portland with 34 assists in his past five games.

``You see some of the passes that he made were not easy passes with a left-hand drop off or two,’’ Vaughn said. ``He’s seeing where the help is coming from and where his outlet is. Sometimes it’s predetermined and sometimes it’s instinct for him.’’

Vaughn said that Oladipo’s uneven play in the midst of games is sometimes a product of coaches making adjustments specifically designed to slow him down. But some of the struggles are because of Oladipo’s inexperience and he figures to improve as he gets more minutes at point guard.

``At that point in the game (in the second half) there’s a little bit of mental and physical fatigue going on. Using that time on the side being able to rest your mind a little bit can help you lock back into your responsibilities once you are back on the floor,’’ Vaughn said. ``That comes with time and being in that situation again and again. And again it’s about him getting back into the game and doing the simple things – that will carry him and his special abilities can still come out.’’