PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — The first two months of the season have been aggravating for Grant Hill. But it’s possible his first chance to play for the Clippers may come as early as this weekend.
Saturday night against the Orlando Magic? Maybe.
Hill, who has yet to play in a regular-season game for the Clippers because of a bone bruise in his right knee, took part in a full practice session on Tuesday at the team’s training facility. That amounts to major news, even though Hill still isn’t sure when he’ll make his debut.
“The last couple of days, to be able to actually put my jersey on and go out there and mix it up a little bit, has been fun, although I’m still working off the rust,” he said. “That’ll take some time.”
With the Clippers owning the best record in the NBA at 27-8, there’s plenty of patience all around.
“I want to see how he feels tomorrow,” coach Vinny Del Negro said, noting that Hill would take part in a morning shoot-around before a decision is made. “We’ve got some key guys banged up, so if we have the opportunity to get Grant out there to take some minutes off those guys, it might be beneficial.”
Reserve forward Lamar Odom has been slowed by a bad ankle, guard Jamal Crawford has missed two consecutive games with a sore foot and forward Ronny Turiaf has a sore elbow. In addition, guard Chauncey Billups has missed all but three games and has no timetable for his return from tendinitis in his left foot.
Knowing his team could use the help makes Hill, 40, even more anxious to contribute, although he acknowledges the Clippers have done fine without him.
“It’s been driving me crazy,” he said of the layoff, “but the good thing is we’ve been playing great. Even more important than that, we’ve got a bunch of good guys and they’ve made me and Chauncey feel like we’re a part of things. That makes it easier.”
Hill said his knee is pain free, but making the transition from sitting to practicing to playing minutes will take a while.
“It’s just giving it more time,” he said. “I don’t know if you go from three months of not playing to one practice and then play. You typically give yourself a little bit of time to see how the body responds. I want to play, but sometimes you have to be guarded against yourself.”
All this begs the question: Why? Hill has been in the league since the 1994-95 season and has had his career knocked off course by injuries several times. So why would he feel the need to work so hard to rehab his knee and squeeze out another season?
“A chance to win a championship,” he answered. “If you see what we’ve done thus far, and just with the guys we’ve played, I don’t think we’ve reached our potential yet. You don’t always have these opportunities. I’ve been in the league 19 years, and to have a team that has this kind of talent, this kind of depth, this kind of character, I don’t know when I’ve been in a situation like this.
“Once you’re done playing, there’s no looking back. So you want to give it all you can while you are playing.”