Hill's still-ailing ankle keeps Magic hopping


Pro Basketball

January 05, 2003|By Milton Kent

At this point in the game, Grant Hill knows that Tom Petty is wrong, the waiting really isn't the hard part. It's the not knowing that's the most difficult.

Hill has been put on the shelf - again - by the Orlando Magic until someone can figure out why his left ankle still hurts. Until that happens, Hill won't know what he can do or when he can do it, and that hurts as much as the pain in his ankle.

"Officially, my nickname should be `Radiation Man' because I've taken so many scans. If I take one more scan, I'll be glowing," Hill said last week. "The thing I'm just a little frustrated with is it being so up and down."

For the better part of three seasons now, Hill has desperately wanted to give the Magic some value for the seven-year, $90 million deal it gave him to leave Detroit after the 1999-2000 season. But his ankle, which he injured in his last season with the Pistons, just won't cooperate.

After three surgeries and missing all but 18 games in the past two seasons to repair the stress fracture he suffered in Detroit, this was to be the season Hill would get back to the form that made him one of the league's best all-around players.

He got through training camp in reasonable shape and played in 26 of Orlando's first 33 games, averaging 15.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists, serving as a reliable second option to Tracy McGrady.

But Hill is experiencing inflammation of the posterior tibial tendon - on the back, inside portion of the ankle. And that has largely kept him out of practice this season. Because the tendon is near Hill's old stress fracture, the Magic understandably has been wary about the inflammation, so much so that the team shut him down for a week or more until doctors can determine what the cause is.

"I just keep going back to what [team doctor Mark] Myerson said: `There's going to be a lot of questions that we can't answer on why he's feeling good, why he's feeling bad. We can't figure that one out,' " Orlando coach Doc Rivers said before the Magic played host to Washington last Tuesday.

"My guess is that's what we're going to come up with. We're hoping, and I'm being really optimistic. We don't know why. We do know that when he's sore, he can't play, and when he's not, he can. I get a little nervous when they have these big meetings. The last time we had one, he didn't come back. I don't like them."

Almost as maddening for Rivers is that he can't make solid plans around Hill. Every time he thinks that the 6-foot-8 swingman can play, Hill doesn't, and when he doesn't think Hill can go, he can, which messes with the Orlando rotation. And with Hill gone for long stretches, Rivers has to depend even more on McGrady, whose ailing back may soon collapse from all the weight of the Magic offense and defense that he has to carry.

But with the Magic deep in the playoff hunt, and no word - yet - that Hill won't be around later, Rivers will take the waiting. It's something that he's already used to.

"It just doesn't seem like it's going to get better anytime soon," Rivers said. "Maybe 20 or 30 games from now, it might. I would rather have this issue of him playing and not playing than him not playing at all. That's the way I look at it.

"I know it throws us off-kilter, and we'll be up and down. That's what it's felt this year's been all about. We get a rhythm going and we have a chance to break out and get five or six or seven wins, and then it goes out, back out of rhythm. But we're still in the thick of things. I'm really happy with where we're at. I couldn't ask for more from the guys."


While Denver has sent 17 different starting lineups on court this season - the league high - only one team has stayed with the same lineup in all its games. Name the team. No hints.

Stotts' big chance

When Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl fired off an intemperate blast last year about how young minority coaching candidates were getting coaching chances ahead of longtime NBA assistants, including his own loyal No. 2, Terry Stotts, it seemed that Karl was doing them and Stotts no favors.

Now that Stotts, who left Milwaukee to join Atlanta in the offseason, has taken over with the Hawks for the fired Lon Kruger, it may well be that Karl's remarks have boomeranged back to help Stotts, raising his profile.

"George's intentions were good," Stotts said recently, claiming that he had never been asked about Karl's statement until last week. "He believes and believed in me. I don't know what, if any, impact that had on my career, because I was fortunate to work with Lon. I didn't get the job in Atlanta as an assistant. I think I got it on my worth as an assistant coach, and things worked out the way they did recently. It was a touchy subject, and I have to watch what I say."

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