Hill’s Eventual Return to Strengthen Sixers’ Title Hopes


I get it. A J.J. Redick return sounded fantastic.

Redick’s Potential Return to Philly Better on Paper Than Principle

A Redick-Joel Embiid reunion takes Sixers fans back to a simpler, purer time in their post-Process reality. Given what Seth Curry has done for Embiid and Ben Simmons, imagine what even more spacing could do for them.

I also get the clamoring for Kyle Lowry. Philadelphia native, former Villanova wildcat, a tough, not-backing-down-from-anyone bulldog persona, the pure point guard who could take over stretches, the veteran who could flank the young stars without snuffing them out.

A stint in Philadelphia seemed like his destiny, until it wasn’t.

Switching Course

Either would not only have been considered a win-now move, but a win-right-now one, given both players’ ages and contracts. Either would provide little-to-no flexibility in making any fringe roster moves to iron out their rotation or guard against an injury.

Such all-in moves are sexy and exciting for a fanbase. Nets bandwagon fans are practically pre-ordering their 2021 championship shirts and hats. Nuggets fans are talking themselves into being among the elite with their Aaron Gordon acquisition (and rightfully so). Bucks fans are just happy with Giannis whether acquiring Jrue Holiday is the missing championship piece or not. Even the mediocre Celtics have multiple players who can score 20 points on a good night.

Every contender is trying to surround their stars with more stars. If they can’t get a star, they’ll get as close as they can to one.

That mentality comes at a price. While Daryl Morey may not have come out of the trade deadline with the best car on the lot, there was no way he was paying sticker price.

You couldn’t say that about a lot of the moves made in the time between the Morey and Sam Hinkie eras, where they were wandering in the desert taking the hard way to the promised land. George Hill may not equal championship, but it signals something perhaps even more important– growth.

Don’t Forget About George

I get it. George Hill isn’t exactly an exciting acquisition. He doesn’t fulfill the nostalgia of a Redick re-acquisition or the fantasies of a Lowry integration.

He’s in his 13th year in the league — on his 8th team — has never been one of the three-best players on a championship team now, and is probably most notable for being part of a 1-for-1 trade on draft night for a relatively unknown prospect at the time out of Southern California. In fact, we haven’t heard much of him at all this year.

A thumb injury has caused Hill to miss most of this season. And considering he was in OKC, where veterans are being stored only for Sam Presti to flip them later to add to his Scrooge McDuck-like hoard of future draft picks, no one would blame you for forgetting all about him.

Regardless, let’s not forget what Hill did the year prior in Milwaukee.

Hill shot 46% from three during the regular season. While that number dipped from Steph (and Seth) Curry-like efficiency to being simply above average (just under 36%) in the playoffs, Hill proved to be Milwaukee’s second-most reliable ball handler, a capable defender, and a vital compliment to Giannis in just under 27 minutes per game.

That’s not Lowry or Redick, but it’s a reliable complimentary piece at a fraction of the price. Hill is not only one of Gregg Popovich’s favorite former players, he gives the Sixers exactly what they need to compete for a championship this year, but that’s not all he does.

The Effect on Shake Milton

I get it. I love Shake Milton too! I love how a second-round pick has grown into a regular rotation piece. I love that he’s grown into a capable secondary playmaker (and sometimes sole playmaker when he’s on the floor without Embiid, Simmons or Tobias Harris). I love that he was a very, very early sixth-man-of-the-year candidate. I also love that he has earned Doc Rivers’s trust playing in some crucial fourth quarter stretches.

Still, I don’t fully trust him. Not yet. Not in a deep playoff run when he’ll be relied upon much more than he is now. That’s not to say he can’t be trusted, that he won’t grow to be, or that more playoff experience won’t make him to be. The Hill acquisition makes it so he doesn’t have to be right now.

Milton is still only 24 years old in his third season. Some — or rather few — young players can thrive in an expanded role ahead of schedule when their number is called. Think Jayson Tatum during Boston’s 2018 playoff run (Don’t think about how the Sixers could have drafted him instead of Markelle Fultz).

Perhaps Hill could close games for the Sixers if he comes even close to being the flamethrower he was for stretches in Milwaukee. Perhaps Hill and Milton play together in second units, thus alleviating ballhandling duties from Milton and Harris so they can operate more freely off-ball.

If nothing else, Hill represents perhaps the only true, pure point guard on the roster, and a dependable one at that. One from whom Milton can learn.

Setting Realistic Expectations

Even with Lowry or Redick, the prospect of beating the Brooklyn Nets seemed daunting. Morey must have known that. Most importantly, he’s seen the lack of stability the franchise has had in the post-Hinkie era before his arrival. He saw the short-term moves that have haunted the Sixers: going all-in (the Jimmy Butler trade), trying to catch lightening in a bottle (the Zhaire Smith for Mikal Bridges draft-night trade), seemingly throwing darts at the wall to get marginally better (trading away draft picks for half a season of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III).

He’s doing what smart GMs do, which is building a team.

Making a team better isn’t all about the next acquisition. It’s also about developing what you have, and development takes time. It may be that Matisse Thybulle (THIGH-BULL!), Milton, or runner/jumper/floater enthusiast Tyrese Maxey may not be all-stars, and that’s alright. They are young players on rookie contracts who’ve each shown they can support the stars on the team.

Why not see what you have before throwing it away? Haven’t they moved past short-term solutions that become mistakes you have to clean up later?

Window is Open

I get it. When you have a window, you have to leap through it. Embiid and Simmons are fully in their primes. They’re playing the best basketball of their careers. Most importantly, neither of them has publicly asked for a trade yet. That is a precious window to be in for any team.

Past title winners indicate you need a major acquisition to win a championship. Perhaps having lived in San Antonio, I’m a sucker for the idea that slow development, team chemistry and specific roles for each guy will win out. A lot of people don’t believe in the Spurs way any more, but if there’s someone who knows something about that and represents what that could mean for the Sixers, now and in the future, it would be a former Spur.

Someone like George Hill.

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About Matthieu Hertilus

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