Doc Rivers compares Andrew Bynum’s absence to his experience with Grant Hill

Andrew Bynum has yet to play a single minute as a Philadelphia 76er, he says his right knee is still hurting him and the 76ers are on pace to win 32 games as a result. And that’s assuming the Sixers, who have lost nine of 10, keep up that current .390 winning percentage.

Fresh off a loss to the Boston Celtics, C’s coach Doc Rivers empathized with 76ers coach (and good friend) Doug Collins. To Rivers, the whole situation with Bynum reminds him of Grant Hill’s fitful turn with the Orlando Magic, a team Rivers used to coach, from 2000 until 2007. From the Boston Globe:

“I had Grant Hill for three years and we made the playoffs every year with that group, but it was hard,” Rivers said. “[The 76ers] are doing that same thing we did.

“You go into the year with your offense and defensive schemes for Grant and for Bynum, and then you’re running half of it but you don’t want to change too much because if he comes back, then you’re going to have to change back.

“You just felt like you were caught in flux the entire season. In our case, Grant would play, like, three games and sit out 30 more. It was really hard.”

That “playoffs” reference shouldn’t be taken as a shot at Collins, who will more than likely miss the postseason in 2013 after making it to the seventh game of the second round last year with Philadelphia. The 76ers gave up their best player in the Bynum deal, strangely decided to replace Elton Brand and Lou Williams with Kwame Brown and Nick Young, and gave up their two best young prospects in Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic while acquiring Bynum – and Andrew hasn’t played a minute. Those Rivers-led Magic teams weren’t world-beaters, much less second round-makers, but they did have a player in Tracy McGrady that at the time was Hill’s equal.

And it’s important, ‘Animal Farm’-style, to remember just how equal Grant Hill was when Orlando signed him.

It wasn’t like the Miami Heat signing LeBron James in 2010, but in terms of that era it wasn’t far off. Hill, even working on a bum ankle for the last month of the regular season, averaged 25.8 points per game for a slow-down Pistons team in 1999-00. His rebound and assist totals combined to average 11.8, his block and steal totals combined for two per game, and he was as good as wing players came in that era. The pairing of Hill and McGrady, who averaged 32.1 points, 12 combined rebounds/assists, and 2.5 blocks/steals in his third season with Orlando, should have been devastating.

It was all shot to hell when Hill, a free agent to-be with a nice guy image to uphold, decided to come back way too early from an ankle injury late in 1999-00. Sound familiar? He then, as Orlando’s new showy centerpiece, came back far too early in 2000-01. In trying to play the nice guy, Hill overreached, and his health and career never recovered.

(Although, 13 years later, he’s still played more games than Andrew Bynum this season.)

Bynum, who was traded to Philadelphia, doesn’t have the same loyalties to the 76ers as Hill did to the Magic or even a Pistons team he probably knew he was leaving. He has no nice guy image to uphold (this is the guy that parks in handicapped spaces after all, like a jerk) and is rightfully thinking health-first, and 8th seed in the East-last. His “I don’t want to play through pain” comment from last week may rankle some, but when coming back too early could potentially result in a career-crippling microfracture surgery – lost years, more rehabilitation, and millions of dollars – who can blame the guy?

Not Hill, probably. And, more importantly, probably not Doug Collins. And certainly not Doc Rivers, who has seen this dance before.

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