April 08, 2021
Sixers fans have grown accustomed to waiting when their favorite team makes a trade to upgrade the roster. Without invoking the former Lakers center who shall not be named, their 2020 trade deadline acquisitions (Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks) took so long to join the team that some began joking they were taking covered wagons from California, stuck on the reverse Oregon Trail while the Sixers waited for them to arrive.
George Hill, by contrast, is very much with the team. But with an in-season thumb surgery complicating his season, Hill's return to the lineup has not been given a clear date or timetable. The veteran guard did his best to clear things up during a call with reporters Thursday, though a timetable remains elusive.
"They just said they want to take it one day at a time, no one knows a timetable yet. But I will be back this season, for sure," Hill said with a laugh. "I will be back before the playoffs, for sure. Just getting everything going. Once you shut your body down for three months or so, not just your finger, you have to make sure the whole care is up to date. Your Achilles, your ankles, your legs and things like that. So just getting back into shape, getting back into the rhythm and the groove of just basketball period, but I think coming in the last couple of days to now, the progress has been tremendous...it's going to be sooner than expected."
It's not the immediate arrival many fans were probably hoping for — many were not aware Hill had undergone surgery and was still on the shelf in the first place — but it's a positive sounding update from the man himself, who has allegedly been thinking about coming here for a while.
Hill has a longstanding relationship with Sixers sharpshooter Danny Green dating back to his days in San Antonio, with Green one of the many names he dropped to open his Zoom call. Every offseason, the two vets spend some time back in San Antonio working out together, and when Hill was dealt to a rebuilding OKC program as part of the trade to send Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee, he saw a future with the Sixers as a distinct possibility once he eventually moved on. And it was his knowledge of the city, not just the team, that made it feel like the right place for Hill to continue his career.
"If I could go to a couple of places, this was one of my choices. The reason why is I felt like we have a good enough team to compete for a championship, first of all. We have a great coach and a coaching staff to get us there. But me playing here in Philly as an opponent, you really kind of soak in the tradition here. The way the fans are, the atmosphere they bring, they're diehard fans. You're playing good or playing bad, they're going to let you know. You want a city like that that cares, you want fans that care about their sport, care about their team, and want to see their team win games. It was a great place, I think they have a lot of guys I can relate to. I think it was one thing they were probably missing was outside shooting and things like that, outside of Danny and a couple of other guys, and just trying to fill that void, fill that missing piece for a championship."
Unlike a lot of guys looking for a new home this season (glares at the Nets new acquisitions), Hill maintained a professional approach in Oklahoma City prior to going down with an injury. Hill was a productive shooter at almost 39 percent from deep, a steady playmaker with a 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and continued earning rave reviews for his professionalism despite moving from a contender to a team that was stripping things down nearly to the nails. That was part of what drew the Sixers to Hill, who has connections with a number of the assistant coaches on Doc Rivers' staff.
Hill is still on the shelf, but he has been in plenty of contact with Rivers on what to expect once he's back out on the floor. While a particular role has not been hammered down yet, Hill says he's ready for whatever challenge the Sixers throw at him, something he believes Rivers knows and appreciates.
"They just want me to be myself," Hill said. "He knows I've never been the type to care about if I'm starting or care about if I'm coming off of the bench or how many shots I'm getting or things like that. He knows the only thing that matters to me is winning basketball games, playing the right way, having fun and competing...any role they give me I'm going to embrace with open arms, no matter if it's 30 minutes or 15 minutes. I'm going to go out there and play hard and compete, try to help us win games."
When that will be is still a matter of some doubt, even after speaking with Hill. Rivers has set a consistent target of "at least 10 games" with Hill before the playoffs begin, which would require Hill to be back by their April 30th game against the Atlanta Hawks. That doesn't seem unreasonable considering Hill underwent surgery on his thumb in early February, but as Hill noted to reporters on Thursday, a mallet injury to the thumb is a bit rarer than with other fingers, and there's a feeling out process on top of the usual maintenance work needed to return after a long layoff.
"It's doing pretty good, I got the cast off a week and a half ago or so, just doing the rehab with our PT staff and things like that," Hill said. "I've been blessed enough to come here and not being rushed to get back, I think the team is doing a great job right there. It kinda gives you a cushion to make sure it's right and [get] back into rhythm. I think we've shown a lot of progress in the last four to five days I've been here with some of the movement and things like that, and looking forward to getting back out there as soon as I can."
With time to focus on getting himself right and getting acclimated with his new teammates, Hill has plenty of time to soak things in before hitting the floor again. From the sound of things, he's going to take advantage of it, and it won't shock you to learn that a team competing for the No. 1 seed in the East is having a lot of fun right now.
"It's really fun. We have a lot of different personalities here. It's a fun atmosphere, very easy atmosphere," Hill said. "The team has embraced me with open arms, and that's all you can ask for."
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