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Will he Magically reappear?

Page 2 of 3 -- "I would love it if he came back," Rivers said. "He deserves it as much as anyone in sports. He's such a smart player and he never, ever complained. I wish I'd had him more because I knew how good we could have been with him."

Weisbrod, who arrived in Orlando four months before Hill as an executive and was named general manager last year, has seen the entire saga unfold. If anyone should have doubts, qualms, concerns, or wariness, Weisbrod is that fellow. But the GM, who has put his unmistakable stamp on this team (only one player remains from last year's Opening Night roster), is convinced we'll see a lot of Hill this season.

"He definitely believes he's back," Weisbrod said. "I can tell by the gleam in his eye. Before, there was always that trepidation."

Said Hill, "If I didn't believe 100 percent that I would be able to come back healthy and beat this injury, then I wouldn't have had the surgery or wouldn't have put myself through this. I am excited about being healthy, I am excited about this team and upcoming season. I like the fact that people kind of count me out and kind of count the team out."

In other words, dismiss Hill (and, by extension, the Magic) at your peril. There's no better comeback story out there -- and no one who deserves a happy ending more than Hill.

A big question
On the subjects of comebacks, the Celtics have one unfolding with Raef LaFrentz. You may remember him; he came from Dallas in the Antoine Walker trade (as the major acquisition), then basically missed all of last season with a right knee injury. He played in only 17 games, and those were struggles. Danny Ainge then shut him down, surgery was performed in December, and now LaFrentz is in Waltham, playing five-on-five and hoping for the best. The upside: He says he's even willing to go through two-a-days. The downside: More than nine months since the operation, he's still feeling pain. "Once the season starts, I'll be able to have a better idea of where I am and how much I can do," LaFrentz said. "But I'm going through a lot now on the court, making moves, making cuts, playing with the guys. Once I get through training camp and the preseason, I should be comfortable again." That certainly is the hope of the Celtics. A healthy Raef manning the power forward position is a key to the season. But is Raef really healthy? "The biggest question," LaFrentz acknowledges, "is how is the knee is going to respond to regular-season games and practices?" Rivers said he likes what he sees from LaFrentz so far and has no plans to take it easy on the big guy in training camp. "He wants to be treated like everyone else, and that's what I plan to do," Rivers said . . . While LaFrentz and Hill may be on the mend, the same apparently is not the case for our old/new friend, Rick Fox. The Celtics have been maintaining since the day they acquired him in the Gary Payton deal that Fox was unlikely to play this season because of injuries. Fox corroborated that through his publicist Friday. "His body is not responding," said Staci Wolfe. "He has been diligently rehabbing all summer, but he still hasn't recovered. He still is bothered by his foot injury and by a bulging disk in his neck." Fox is on the books for around $5 million this season, which might make retirement a tough decision. Something should be known within a week or two, but Ainge is not expecting Fox to walk through that door anytime soon . . . The Utah Jazz might have had the best summer of anyone, signing free agents Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer as well as re-signing key guys Carlos Arroyo and Gordan Giricek and picking up potential help in the draft in the form of Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder. But there's one order of unfinished business for owner Larry Miller: locking up the ever-valuable Andrei Kirilenko, who is eligible until Oct. 29 to be signed to a long-term extension. "I have a good relationship with [GM] Kevin O'Connor," said Kirilenko's rep, the ubiquitous Marc Fleisher. "We got Mehmet and Gordan done this summer, and I hope they feel the way I feel, that Andrei is a special player in this league who deserves to be compensated accordingly." Fleisher said he and O'Connor have been talking numbers -- and you can be sure there are a lot of zeroes involved. Boozer signed a six-year deal for $68 million, while Okur came aboard for $50 million over six years. Kirilenko should be even pricier, given his presence in last year's All-Star Game (selected by the coaches) and the fact that he is so young (23) and versatile. Fleisher also represents Tony Parker, who is in a situation similar to that of Kirilenko. He said he had his first chat this past week with Spurs GM R.C. Buford about an extension for Parker, of whom Fleisher said, "He's one of the best point guards in the league and maybe the best young point guard in the league." San Antonio re-signed Manu Ginobili and Bruce Bowen this summer and also signed free agent Brent Barry, dropping more than $90 million in the process. The Spurs will be over the cap next summer regardless of what they do with Parker, but, as he is one of theirs, anything goes up to the league max. "The Spurs have done an excellent job of managing their cap, and I don't expect that to suddenly come to a stop," Fleisher said. He added, however, that teams that now appear to have cap space for next summer also are teams that may need a point guard (hint, hint). Parker and Kirilenko would become restricted free agents next summer if not signed to extensions by the 29th. Given the way Utah and San Antonio run their teams, allowing either player to even think of free agency doesn't appear plausible.   Continued...

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