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Facing another up-Hill battle
by Mike Tuck / January 31, 2003

For the third consecutive year, the Orlando Magic will be forced to adjust to life without the #2 in their 1-2 punch. Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill were brought in as free agents in 2000 and immediately filled Magic fan’s heads with dreams of being entertained by the NBA’s next dynamic duo. Unfortunately, while T-Mac has seen his star soar since then, Grant has seen his dim.

At the time Hill was seen as the All-Pro and McGrady the young budding star who would chip in and learn. But because of Hill’s ankle problems T-Mac has been forced to burden the superstar load with nobody to lean on.

“I've got to put a lot of work in,” McGrady said. “I can't take any nights off. I've got to get these guys going. And it starts with me. I've got to get these guys going. This is just the way it has to be right now. Somehow, someway, I'm going to find a way to lead this team," he said. "I know how to play without Grant Hill. I have to be focused right from the start."

T-Mac has not been the only guy who has been affected by the loss of Hill though. The Magic have had to change who facilitates the offense. Darrell Armstrong, Jacque Vaughn and Jeryl Sasser have been running the point more, as opposed to before when Grant Hill would handle the ball and those guys would be the ones running off of screens. The Magic counted on Grant Hill to do so much, and now without him others are forced to do things they aren’t necessarily best at.

The other big change without Grant in the lineup is how the Magic matchup with people defensively. Grant used to be on the other teams' best offensive player, with T-Mac taking the second best guy and Mike Miller the third. Now Mike has to be moved on to the best guy so that T-Mac can get more rest, which hurts Orlando on both ends.

It is a trickle down affect because no one player can play the role of Grant Hill. It also makes it difficult to manage a team that can’t depend on one of its best players. The Magic decided to let guard Troy Hudson and forward Monty Williams leave as free agents this past offseason because they expected to have a healthy Grant Hill this year. Now General Manager John Gabriel is forced to sit back and wait to see if his big signing ever pays off.

“We all feel badly, as Grant was a big part of our plans this season,” said Gabriel. “What’s most important, however, is to improve the overall health of Grant’s ankle joint and allow him to return to form. The doctors are confident that this procedure will address the underlying cause of Grant’s ankle problem and give him the best chance to get healthy.”

Having Hill in and out of the lineup has made things difficult for coach Doc Rivers, too. But not having him at all is an even tougher situation.

“We’re certainly disappointed. We will miss having one of the Top 10 players in the league and a great guy around,” said Doc Rivers. “We will be okay and we will find a way.”

Doc Rivers said his goal of late has been to try and get the Magic to move on from the Hill issue that has lingered over the team the past three seasons. He has tried to stress to the team that using Hill's injury as an excuse is not an option.

“There's nothing we can do about it now and I've told the guys we've just got to keep grinding until we can get him back,” Rivers said. “We could fold, but that would upset me. Grant being out would be such a convenient excuse. We might fail to make the playoffs, but we're going to fail trying. I could at least live with that.”

The Magic have obviously dealt with this problem before, but even that has not prepared them mentally for dealing with it again.

“Going through it for two years and a now a third year without Grant, you kind of just get down on yourself and, like, want to give up,” McGrady admitted. “But there's a part of me inside that's not going to let me do that. My teammates are not going let me to do that, and the coaching staff, too. I just got to keep on going.”

“This has been tougher than the other two years, because this was the year you could see him being Grant
Hill,” said Rivers. You could see him being great this year. He was playing great.”

Nobody feels worse about the situation than Grant himself. Hill has done everything you could ask of a professional athlete to get back on the court. And he probably feels more remorse for everyone around him than he does himself.

“I’m disappointed for the fans and my teammates,” said Grant Hill in a very discourage voice. “Hopefully this (the latest surgery) will lead me down the road to recovery. I will continue to remain optimistic as I face this latest challenge.”

The team as a whole remains optimistic about their season. They are currently 24-23 and sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Is a championship now out of the question? Probably.

But does this team still believe it can do great things?

“Absolutely,” Doc said emphatically. “Right now we have to believe game to game. Right now our goal is to just make the playoffs. With Grant, before the year, the goals were higher. But once you make the playoffs, there is no guarantee he won’t be back.”

Sadly there is no guarantee he will be.

Mike Tuck is a producer/on-air talent for 740 The Team in Orlando and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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