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Tuesday, February 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:22 PM

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Sonics' Hill remains baffled by Popovich's treatment

Seattle Times staff reporter

SAN ANTONIO — Of all the places to settle down, Bob Hill chose Cordillera Ranch, an upscale, gated community about 20 miles northwest of San Antonio where luxury million dollar homes are buttressed by the breathtaking Texas Hill Country landscape.

It's an idyllic setting, which boasts a world-class golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, and a place where Hill and his wife, Pam, raised three boys — Cameron, Chris and Casey — who played basketball and learned their dad's craft at Trinity University.

Hill refers to his home here as "a little slice of heaven," which is a little strange because it's also a place where he's constantly reminded of his biggest failure in basketball and how great his coaching career might have been if not for Gregg Popovich.

"It was what it was," Hill said Monday as his Sonics prepared for tonight's game at San Antonio, which is not only a rematch of last year's Western Conference semifinalists but his first visit as a head coach since being fired by then-president Popovich 10 years ago.

"It's over. I don't think I'm going to feel anything. There's no players on the team that I coached. David [Robinson] will be in the stands, but that's it."

Hill has harbored a deep resentment toward Popovich, whom he believes unfairly terminated his employment and maligned his reputation in the NBA.

Hill has no proof to support his claims, just unsubstantiated claims from anonymous friends throughout the league and a gut feeling that he has been wronged.

Seattle at San Antonio


5:30 p.m. today at SBC Center

TV/Radio: FSN / KJR (950 AM).

Records: Seattle 20-33, San Antonio 40-12.

Notes: These teams last met in Game 6 of the 2005 Western Conference semifinals. San Antonio won 98-96 at KeyArena and captured the series 4-2. The Sonics split the four-game regular-season series with the Spurs last season and the two teams play just three times this season, twice in San Antonio. ... Because the Sonics will not re-sign G Mateen Cleaves, whose 10-day contract expired last week, coach Bob Hill said he would like to play Rick Brunson tonight, which would be the second game of the season for the reserve guard who has battled severe plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Hill is also eager to see more of newcomer Chris Wilcox, who was acquired last week in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers for Vladimir Radmanovic.

Injuries: Sonics — C Robert Swift (facial contusion) is probable. F Danny Fortson (sore left knee) and F Vitaly Potapenko (lower back strain) are out.

Percy Allen

P Sonics HT PPG
F Rashard Lewis 6-10 21.3
F Nick Collison 6-8 6.9
C Robert Swift 7-0 6.7
G Ray Allen 6-4 24.8
G Luke Ridnour 6-2 11.6
P Spurs HT PPG
F Bruce Bowen 6-7 7.6
F Tim Duncan 6-11 19.5
C Rasho Nesterovic 7-0 5.3
G Manu Ginobili 6-6 15.8
G Tony Parker 6-2 19.4

"I just know him too well," Hill said. "I know what he's like behind closed doors. I've been in lots and lots of meetings with him. The only way he can justify what he did was to create all this deception that I was some kind of ... monster. That I was hard to work with or whatever ... and they were all lies."

It still baffles Hill that he was fired after guiding San Antonio to a league-best 62-20 record during the 1994-95 season and 59 wins the next season. He doesn't mention that he inherited a team that won 55 games or that the Spurs failed to advance past the Western Conference finals under his guidance.

It still burns at Hill that he was fired after starting the 1996-97 season with a 3-15 record even though several players were out because of injuries, including Robinson, who played six games that season after aggravating a back injury.

"He basically set me up and kept lying to me, and the first chance he got, he got rid of me," Hill said. "The first chance. We won [121] games in two years. What people remember, which is really sad, is that only David was out.

"There were five guys out. David was out. Sean [Elliott] was out. Chuck Person was out. Will Perdue missed eight games [early]."

With Popovich at the helm, the Spurs finished 20-62 and landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, which they used to select Tim Duncan, who became a two-time MVP. Since he joined the Spurs, they have the best winning percentage of any team in the four major sports at .708 (478-197) and three NBA titles.

If the story ended here, maybe Hill wouldn't still hold a grudge. Despite his glowing résumé, he was passed over for several jobs.

Admittedly, Hill was selective. He refused to start at the bottom again and declined offers to work as an assistant. He finished second in the interviewing process in Cleveland and Seattle and unwisely took the job at Fordham University, where he was dismissed after four seasons.

Friends told Hill that owners might have blackballed him because he accepted $10,000 to coach in a charity game organized by the NBA union before the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

"I don't know, that's possible," he said. "That may have been it. Or maybe it was something else."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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