The Orlando Magic close the unofficial first half of the NBA season tonight at home against the Portland Trail Blazers. Then it's a few days off for the all-star break. Orlando Magic Coach Brian Hill spent Tuesday afternoon with Sentinel Associate Managing Editor/Sports Lynn Hoppes to talk about the season so far, the 1997 player revolt, Dwight Howard and family time, among other topics.
Question: Are you a happy man?
Hill: Am I happy? You mean basketball happy? I think I'm a happy person in life. Because to me, the most important thing is health. Not just my own, but my whole family. Obviously, we've gone through a bunch of trials and tribulations in that area (daughter Kim received a lung transplant more than two years ago), and we have great health now. I'm very thankful for that.
Q: Then why do you get so cranky on the court?
Hill: When you're on the court, you're in a different world. The focus is on everything that is taking place on the court. I guess we all coach within our own personality, and mine is somewhat intense. I try to control it as much as I can. I'm constantly being reminded that by my daughter, Kim. She would say, "Dad, life is good. Relax and take it easy."
Q: Do you consider yourself a father figure to the players?
Hill: I don't think they look up to me as a father figure. I think I try to instill basketball skills and a sense of professionalism. I want to show them how to go about their jobs the right way and on a daily basis. I want to show them by example a strong work ethic and attention to detail. In turn, I expect that from them on the court.
Q: What are your thoughts on coaching Dwight Howard?
Hill: Dwight has progressed tremendously over the past couple of years. Outside of his God-given talent, we made him the focal point of the offense. He had to learn skills in the post, as a passer, as a defender and how to handle different situations on the floor. He is getting better in all those areas. That's why he's blossoming into one of the top players in the league.
Q: You coached Shaq, too. How different is coaching those two?
Hill: Both are supremely talented as young players. But there's a difference of a maturity level when they came into the league. Shaq benefited from three years of college. His demeanor when he came on the court was all business. He was fun-loving and a cut-up off the court, but between the lines, it was all business.
Q: And Dwight?
Hill: I think Dwight is getting to that point. Earlier in his career, it was more about coming out and having fun. I think he's reaching that point where he understands if you're going to be the best player on the team, there is a lot of responsibility with that. You set a tone every day with your work ethic and professionalism.
Q: How close are you to this team?
Hill: I enjoy this group of guys much more than any previous group. I'm talking 1 through 15. They are a great group of guys. I enjoy coming to work every day.
Q:: What about the player revolt and your dismissal in 1997? What are your thoughts on ring leader Penny Hardaway?
Hill: You learn from every situation that you go through in life. There is always one or two things you'd want to change if you had a chance to go back. Maybe in how you handle a particular situation, how you dealt with a player on a personal level. But there were so many factors that go into the situation that are out of your control.
Q: Have you cleared the air with Penny?
Hill: I've had no conversation.
Q: Do you want to?
Hill: I prefer not to get into it. It's just a personal thing.
Q: As your team sometimes struggles to score, what do you say to critics who say you're coaching like it's the mid-'90s?
Hill: I don't coach like it's 1996. It's a different group of guys. It was a different offensive philosophy. It's a different defensive philosophy. For someone to make that statement like that, they don't have an understanding of the game.
Q: When it comes to scoring, fans are screaming for more J.J. Redick. Your thoughts?
Hill: Critics don't come to practice. They don't coach this team. That's my responsibility. My decisions are predicated on what's best for the basketball team. It may not be what's best for the individual. What a lot of people don't understand is how much time Redick has missed, the entire summer, training camp and the exhibition season. He's worked extremely hard, and now he has earned the right to be on the floor. It's like anybody in any walk of life. Very few people are handed stuff without earning it. It's no different when it comes to a basketball team.
Q: We're getting close to the trade deadline. Any moves?
Hill: It's my obligation to always look to improve the basketball team. But at the same time, most people don't understand how difficult it is to make a trade in the NBA. To get a significant piece, you need to give up a significant piece. And our significant pieces are our young players. I don't feel in position to give up on any of these guys. We think that highly of them.
Q: What about moving Grant Hill?
Hill: In 37 years of coaching and 20 years in the NBA, Grant Hill is as classy an individual as I've ever been around. I would love to see him finish his career here. There aren't enough Grant Hills in the NBA. When you have a guy like that in your organization, you'll do everything you can to keep him.
Q: How good is this Magic team?
Hill: I think we're a work in progress. Obviously, our goal is to be a playoff team. One thing that has hurt is our health situation. Look at all the teams in front of us. They haven't gone through that. We still haven't played to our full potential yet. We hope to get all our pieces back after the all-star break, and we'll get better and better.
Q: Again, are you happy?
Hill: I don't do a lot of other stuff. I'm not a golfer. I'm not a tennis player. I'm not a skier. Do I have a greater appreciation of life? Yes. Do I have a greater appreciation for understanding that you can't control everything? Yes. You must have an appreciation for every moment that you can spend with your family. When you've gone through, what I call, a life-altering event like what we went through with Kim, you appreciate life a little more.