There aren't many coaches around the NBA who can relate to what Doug Collins and the Sixers are currently enduring.
Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers is one who can.
It was that same high-risk, high-reward deal that Rivers, then head coach in Orlando, was a part of when the Magic signed Grant Hill.
Hill was coming off a severe ankle injury that worsened after the team signed him to a seven-year, $93 million contract in 2000. Coincidentally, Hill, while with the Detroit Pistons, initially suffered that ankle injury in April of that year in a game against, you guessed it, the Sixers.
The former All-Star played in only four games in his first season in Orlando and 196 games in the remaining six seasons.
One of the first things Rivers was asked once he got settled in at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday morning for that night's game against the Sixers was about that span in his coaching career. Rivers said he doesn't think about it often, but he recalls it clearly. He agreed that those types of deals, the ones that add injury-plagued superstars like Hill and Andrew Bynum, could have a long-term impact.
"It cripples your franchise," said Rivers. "It really does, when you have a guy like that. I had Grant Hill for three years. We made the playoffs every year with that group. But, I mean, it was hard.
"What was hard was ... 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. So, you just felt like you were caught in a flux the entire season. That's how I felt."
Though Rivers understands the dilemma that the Sixers are in, he remembered that Hill did play for the Magic. He never played a full season but did play in spurts. He averaged 16.4 points, 3.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds in 200 games.
"In our case, Grant would play like three games and then sit out 30 more," he said. "I mean, it was really hard. But the guys I had, I just had a great group of guys that kind of hung in there. We always snuck into the eighth seed, which is never the greatest place, but we kept doing it without Grant. That just tells you how hard that group worked."
And the group also noticed Hill's efforts.
"They also saw how hard Grant was working everyday," Rivers said. "I don't think that hurt us. I thought that was a good thing for them -- to see this guy that's a superstar. ... I mean every day he was in the gym. I mean every single day. I thought that was pretty good for our other guys, especially our young guys to see."
But even Rivers can't ignore what it would've been like to see a Sixers team with a healthy Bynum. He knew the Sixers would have leaped over his Celtics and been a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.
"I was hoping not," he said smiling. "They're not who I'm cheering for, to be honest. ... They had a bona fide go-to-guy, because that's what Bynum is when he's healthy. I thought that would make them better, and I also thought it would change the way I played a little bit."
What's more, the Sixers not only don't have Bynum but also Andre Iguodala.
"One of the things that made them so good was their athleticism and their speed, and taking Iguodala away changes that a little," Rivers said. "I think that's what people forget. Not only just, not have Bynum, but they don't have Iguodala either. I think that wears on you."
He was reminded of the Sixers' success last season. How that Bynum-less team took the Celtics to the limit -- a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It had appeared as though the Sixers were knocking on the door in the Atlantic Division. Maybe, just maybe, they were on the verge of dethroning Boston as division champions.
"What it tells you is you can never take a year for granted," Rivers said. "And you can never assume because you had a good year that the next year is going to come. You actually gotta go get that year, each year. We've learned that lesson, they're learning that lesson. That's just the way it goes."