There’s been a lot of curiosity among Sixers fans and reporters about George Hill’s status, and understandably so.
The 34-year-old guard was the Sixers’ main acquisition before the trade deadline, and yet it’s unclear exactly when he’ll debut for the team. Head coach Doc Rivers has provided a few unofficial updates, saying Tuesday he didn’t expect Hill to return “anytime soon.”
After the Sixers’ practice Thursday, Hill had a chance to speak for himself.
“(The recovery is) pretty good,” he said. “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. The rare thing is that it’s a mallet on the thumb — it’s normally (another) finger. It’s an uncommon area for where you’d normally get the mallet on. … I’ve been blessed enough to come here and am not being rushed to get back.
“I think the team is doing a great job. It kind of gives you a cushion to make sure it’s right and back into rhythm. I think we’ve shown a lot of progress in the last four, five days I’ve been here with some of the movement and things like that. I’m looking forward to getting back out there as soon as I can.”
Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault told reporters on March 22 that Hill was out of his cast after having surgery in early February. There wasn’t a timeline for his return then, and that remains the case.
However, Hill emphasized Thursday that he’s trending in the right direction and, with a smile, made it clear his absence won't be infinite.
“They just said they want to take it one day at a time,” he said. “No one knows the timetable yet. But I will be back this season for sure. I will be back for the playoffs for sure. ... Once you shut your body down for three months or so, not just your finger, but you’ve got to make sure the whole car is up to date with your Achilles, your ankles, your legs and things like that. Just getting back into shape, getting back into the rhythm and the groove of just basketball, period. I think, for me coming in the last couple days until now, the progress has been tremendous. It’s been really going well. It’s going to be sooner than expected.”
For now, Hill is able to shoot and digest practices from the sidelines. He’s taken on a quasi-assistant coaching role, according to Rivers. It doesn’t hurt that Hill worked with Sixers assistants Dan Burke and Popeye Jones during his time with the Pacers.
“He’s been great in our shootaroounds,” Rivers said Tuesday. “He’s standing literally like one of the coaches. He’s absorbing. He’s actually making points defensively to some of our young guys. He’s absorbing a lot.”
Hill also has a pre-existing relationship with Danny Green dating back to their time on the Spurs a decade ago. The two are still close, with Green spending time in San Antonio every offseason to see Hill and work out with him.
Both veterans liked the idea of teaming up again at some point, and Hill raised the Sixers as a possibility after being dealt this offseason to the rebuilding Thunder.
“Before I got to Philly, I guess the OKC thing happened, and I saw him this (offseason) in San Antonio before we came to Philly,” Green said on March 27. “We were talking about it and he was like, ‘I might be on the move again, this might happen. I might end up in Philly.’ I was like, ‘Yo, we’ll take you. Make it happen. If I need to make a call, I’ll tell them to bring you over there.’
“And it only took about four months before it happened. But he’s here now. A hell of a player, even better person. Can shoot the ball. We need another point guard, another guy that can run the team, play his role well. And he’s an unselfish player. He’s going to fit right in. I think he’s going to be great for us and give us another veteran leadership type of guard and floor spacer.”
So, why was the idea of becoming a Sixer appealing to Hill?
“Talking to Danny this (offseason) in San Antonio was one of my stepping grounds here,” he said. “If I can go to a couple places, this is one of my choices. The reason why is I felt like we have a good enough team here to compete for a championship, first of all. I think we have a great coach and a coaching staff to get us there.
“Me playing here in Philly as an opponent, you really soak in the tradition here — the way the fans are, the atmosphere they bring. They’re diehard fans. You’re playing good or you’re 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 had a lot of guys that I can relate to. I think one thing they were probably missing was outside shooting … outside of Danny and a couple other guys. Just trying to fill that void, to fill that missing piece for a championship.”
Patience will be required from all parties, but Hill will indeed play in front of Sixers fans and be a key playoff piece for the team as long as things go according to plan.
“I’ve been manifesting that for years,” Green said last month.
He’ll just need to wait a little longer to actually play with Hill again.