The Magic has six new players, not including the returning Grant Hill.
By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 2, 2001
ORLANDO -- Doc Rivers has enough to worry about this preseason, or the real season, for that matter.
But the one thing the Orlando Magic coach said he is not worried about is the most important thing: the health of former all-star Grant Hill's twice-surgically repaired left ankle.
"He's fine," Rivers said. "Honestly. He's played terrifically in the scrimmages and pick-up games. I think you'll be shocked how good he's moving the ball."
Two seasons in the making, Hill's comeback starts today when the Magic opens camp at South Florida's Sun Dome.
It will be there that Rivers begins the toughest challenge of his three years as Eastern Conference title hopes build around his talented team.
For starters, he has to deal with three new ones -- Hill and free-agent acquisitions Patrick Ewing and Horace Grant -- who join guards Darrell Armstrong and Tracy McGrady. But that means Rivers also must deal with his third revamped roster in as many years, working his alchemy to meld six new players with a unit that went 43-39 last season and lost to Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs. Then there are new roles to think about.
Rivers must persuade Ewing, his new center, to think more about rebounding and shot-blocking than scoring. He must watch the minutes he doles out to Grant at power forward.
And with all of the stars at his disposal, Rivers also must find a role for 2000-01 rookie of the year Mike Miller, now relegated to the bench.
But most important, Rivers must find a balance between McGrady and Hill.
"Grant and Tracy are the two stars of this basketball team. There's no doubt about that," Rivers said. "And we're going to put a huge burden on both of them to lead our team. We're asking a 21-year-old guy to lead our team as far as we can go. And we're asking another guy who's coming back after a two-year layoff to lead our team.
"That's asking a lot, but we're still going to ask it."
Neither doubts they will make it work.
Even though the 6-foot-8, 210-pound McGrady and 6-8, 225-pound Hill have similar skills and physiques.
"I look at me and Grant, and we do the same things on the basketball court," McGrady said. "We can both play defense. We both can create our own offense. I think we both have the athleticism to score (from anywhere.)
"If he's hot that night, we'll give him the ball. If I'm hot that night, I will get the ball. We'll get it rolling."
But then McGrady added, "It's going to take time to feel each other out."
They played together last season in just four games, and each was hesitant, waiting for the other to take charge.
Hill has been waiting for the chance to play a full season with McGrady, ever since both signed lucrative free-agent contracts in 2000.
Nothing fazes Hill now. Not playing with McGrady and certainly not his ankle. But then to Hill, nothing could worry him like last preseason did.
"I thought maybe I could get better as I went. I thought (the pain) is just part of the healing process," Hill said. "But deep down inside, it still hurt. I still couldn't do the things I was used to. I couldn't be the first one on the court and the last one off. I was probably the last one on and the first one off."
"But now I can go out here and run with the guys and compete with them and not have to think about how I feel."
Hill tested his ankle with a month of five-on-five scrimmaging with his teammates and found he had a bigger problem than his ankle.
"Now I'm thinking about how in the world am I going to stop Tracy," Hill said. "I don't know if that's a better problem or not, but at least I'm not worried about the ankle. I'm worried about not being embarrassed."
The Magic did not unveil Hill in a public scrimmage in Orlando during the offseason, leading to speculation he is not yet fully healed. But Grant, who saw Hill play, dismissed any such doubts.
"He looks good," said Grant, now in his second stint with the Magic.
"He looks good."
Hill can't wait to answer any public, or private, doubts himself.
"Time will tell. Time will definitely reveal it," Hill said. "I'm just glad that time is now."
WHERE: Sun Dome, University of South Florida, Tampa.
FREE SCRIMMAGE: Tampa Fan Jam, 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Sun Dome.
WORKOUTS: Closed to the public.
ICE PALACE GAMES: The Magic will play two games at the Ice Palace, Oct.14, against Atlanta at 6 p.m. and Oct.21 against the Los Angeles Clippers, also at 6 p.m., in a game originally scheduled for Mexico City.
REST OF THE PRESEASON: Oct.10 -- vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m.; Oct.12 -- at Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.; Oct.17 -- vs. Charlotte, 7:30 p.m.; Oct.19 -- vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m.; Oct.23 -- at Dallas, 8:30 p.m.; Oct.25 -- vs. Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.
REGULAR-SEASON OPENER: Oct.30, vs. Toronto, 7 p.m.
TICKETS: Single-game preseason tickets are on sale through the Magic Box Office at (407) 89-MAGIC, or Orlando Ticketmaster at (407) 839-3900, 1-800-4NBA-TIX, icepalace.com. or by local Ticketmasters at (813) 287-8844 or (727) 898-2100. Tickets range from $10 to $55 for individual seats and $6 to $50 for groups of 20 or more. Other individual seat prices are $18, $20, $25, $30 and $35. Floor seats are $100 and $200.
HEAD COACH: Doc Rivers (third season).
ADDITIONS: Draft picks -- C/F Steven Hunter (7-0, 220, DePaul), G Jeryl Sasser (6-6, 200, SMU). Free agents -- C Patrick Ewing (7-0, 255, 17th season), PF Horace Grant (6-10, 245, 15th season), Todd Fuller (6-11, 255, seventh season). Trades -- G Laron Profit (6-5, 204, third season), acquired from Washington for the draft rights to Brendan Haywood.
REST OF THE ROSTER: G Corey Alexander (6-1, 190), G Darrell Armstrong (6-1, 180), C Andrew DeClercq (6-10, 255), F Pat Garrity (6-9, 238), G/F Grant Hill (6-8, 225), G Troy Hudson (6-1, 170), F/G Tracy McGrady (6-8, 210), F/G Mike Miller (6-8, 218), F Bo Outlaw (6-8, 210), PF Don Reid (6-8, 250), F Monty Williams (6-8, 225). -- Compiled by Roger Mills.