Grant Hill wants to win a title by playing less like Michael and
more like Earvin
At the outset of his six years with the Pistons, Grant Hill was
expected to be the second coming of Michael Jordan. Now that
he's playing for Orlando, he hopes to take after another MJ.
"Magic Johnson is the person I idolized and tried to be like,"
says Hill, who played only four games for the Magic last season
between operations on his broken left ankle. "I can put up 30 to
35 points if we need it, but I prefer the all-around game. I
love to pass."
Though Hill steadily improved as a scorer for the Pistons,
culminating in a career-high 25.8-point average two years ago,
his desire to be more than a scorer led to complaints from many
in the Detroit organization--including guard Jerry Stackhouse
and coach George Irvine--that he wasn't a leader. Hill is intent
on reversing that impression. "When he interviewed with us two
summers ago, he talked about using this transition to another
team to create a better job for him as a floor leader," says
Orlando general manager John Gabriel.
Hill, 29, tried to put his year off to good use. "I had a lot of
time to look at myself and the areas I could improve offensively
and defensively," he says. "I was thinking in terms of my mental
approach and of being a better teammate. I feel like I'm
entering my prime. I have the experience, but I still have my
youth, I'm still athletic."
Hill claims that his ankle has felt so strong in the preseason
that he has occasionally forgotten to tape it. On Sunday night
during Orlando's 101-81 exhibition loss to the Hawks in Tampa,
he scored 15 points in 29 minutes and looked as light on his
feet as any of his teammates. He beat opponents off the dribble
and had no problem leading the fast break. "This is the first
game in which I thought he had his legs throughout the game,"
said Magic coach Doc Rivers. "I think it's going to take until
midseason for him to get the leg power so that he can jump and
dunk all game."
"This has been a good test, with two-a-days and now three games
in the last five nights," Hill said on Sunday. "I look at where
Jordan was the first time he came back after 18 months off, and
he didn't have his legs either. But my lateral movement is good,
and so are my slides on defense--all of the basketball moves you
can't simulate during rehab."
For at least a quarter per game this season, Rivers hopes to put
out a big lineup of two frontcourt bangers alongside Hill, 6'8"
Tracy McGrady and 6'9" Mike Miller, last season's Rookie of the
Year, with Hill serving as a Magic Johnson-sized point guard. At
times Hill will also bring the ball upcourt on fast breaks to
allow 6'1" point guard Darrell Armstrong to run ahead.
Orlando cannot assume, however, that the partnership between
Hill and McGrady will immediately work. One need look no further
than Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to see how hard it is to
marry superstar talents. Hill was one of the five best players
in the league before his injury, and in his absence last season
McGrady ascended to that category. McGrady's emergence as a
26.8-points-per-game scorer turned his perceived relationship
with Hill upside down. Before last year most observers had
assumed that McGrady would defer to Hill. Now Hill calls McGrady
"the best player in the game," and he promises to help McGrady
"Tracy is the Number 1 option," Hill says. "The guy has
unbelievable ability, and we're going to take advantage of that.
You look at the old Lakers: Magic ran the show, but the high
scorer was usually James Worthy or Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], and
other guys would step it up on different nights. I hope that's
how we're going to be. All I'm concerned with now is trying to
Derrick Coleman Redux
Will He Adjust to A Reserve Role?
The Hornets' fortunes this season depend largely on their most
expensive and divisive player. Last season Derrick Coleman
averaged 8.1 points and sat out 48 games because of injuries,
illness and lack of physical conditioning. His cavalier approach
prompted coach Paul Silas to strip him of his co-captaincy. This
year Coleman arrived at training camp with a slimmer waistline
and with a smile that faded only at the mention of one subject:
his role off the bench.
"He's been a totally different person," says P.J. Brown, who
took over for the 6'10" Coleman at power forward last year.
"Whatever the coaches have said to him, he's done what they've
asked. He was the key last year. If we had been able to get him
to where he needed to be, I have no doubt we would have gone to
the Eastern Conference finals and maybe beyond."
Coleman realizes that his reputation, never good to begin with,
hit rock bottom last season as Charlotte went 34-14 when he
didn't play and 12-22 when he did. "How can you believe that
stat knowing that I carried us two years ago?" Coleman says.
"But if you want to believe it, if you don't want me here, then
let me go somewhere I can be useful."
The Hornets tried to do just that, shopping Coleman in the
off-season. No one, however, wanted to take on the remaining two
years and $19 million of his contract. Coleman believes he can
equal his production of two seasons ago, when he averaged 16.7
points and 8.5 rebounds to help lead Charlotte to the
fourth-best record in the East. But--and this is an ominous
but--Coleman also believes he should replace Brown in the
starting lineup. "Coming off the bench is not a role I'm
comfortable with," he says. "I've never had to do it."
"I like him coming off the bench with his scoring to give us a
lift," says Silas, who says that Coleman--despite his desire to
start--has become a leader of the subs. "He's talking to those
guys, teaching them, listening to them. He's taking charge, and
I like that."
The question is, Can Coleman learn to live with a role he says
he doesn't want to play? "He'll accept it for the good of the
team," says point guard Baron Davis, who defended Coleman
against his critics last season. "I know he wants to win, and
with his talent he'll be a strong candidate for the Sixth Man
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Polishing his dishes, Hill had four assists in a preseason win over Miami.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Coleman's biggest challenge this season will be to stuff his ego and accept his role as sixth man.
around the Rim
New Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks named Rasheed Wallace a
tri-captain in the hope that Wallace will exercise
self-discipline for the good of the team. "Mo is demanding
things nobody has demanded of Rasheed in the past," says Damon
Stoudamire, who, with Scottie Pippen, was also named
tri-captain....Shed no tears for the "fired" agents of Michael
Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. Although Jordan had no need for
David Falk in signing with the Wizards, Falk still handles MJ's
endorsements. While O'Neal will be represented by his uncle Mike
Parris, Leonard Armato will continue to be paid commissions on
the myriad deals he negotiated for Shaq....Bulls 6'5" point
guard Jamal Crawford is up to 190 pounds after adding 15 to his
upper body while rehabbing from August surgery on his left knee.
Crawford, 21, who made a believer of Jordan during summer pickup
games in Chicago, hopes to be back by February....Terrell
Brandon got off to a bad start at training camp by requesting a
role off the bench and a reduction in minutes next season if the
Timberwolves want to develop a new point guard. Two problems:
Nobody is waiting in the wings, and Brandon is guaranteed $42.6
million over the next four seasons.