11 June 2007

The Case For Keeping Grant Hill

With apologies to Shawn Kemp, no superstar of the early 1990s has seen his career tail off as quickly as Grant Hill did. Whereas Kemp was done in by his hedonism, Hill was done in by his passion for basketball. He played through excruciating pain in his last season in Detroit, limping around the court in the playoffs as a mere shadow of himself. He didn't know his ankle was broken, and consequently he didn't know that he'd never again dominate a game with Oscar Robertson-like averages of 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists as he did in the 1996/1997 season. It's easy to forget how great Hill was, and it's even easier to dismiss him as a has-been. The Magic have played 511 combined regular-season and postseason games since Hill signed with the team. Of those, he has played in 204, or a mere 39.9%.

Grant Hill, in obvious pain, leaves the second game of the Detroit Pistons' first-round playoff series with the Miami Heat in 2000. His career would never be the same.

Photo by Angela Peterson, Orlando Sentinel

In spite of all that, I'm here today to campaign openly for the Magic to re-sign Grant Hill. It won't be an easy task: unless Hill is willing to sign for the veteran's minimum of $1.5 M, the Magic would likely have to trade someone like Keith Bogans or Carlos Arroyo to free up cap room because most -- if not all -- of it will go toward re-signing Darko Milicic and signing a perimeter scorer. The fact that other teams are interested in Hill further complicates the matter. And last Thursday, USA Today reported that Grant Hill will listen to what those other suitors will say:

With his ankle now stabilized, the 12-year veteran says he hasn't closed the door on a return to the Magic but is listening to all offers. Could a return to Detroit be in his future? "I'm keeping myself open," Hill says.

"I'm going to see what Orlando's doing but if people come knocking, I'm going to listen. I'm still trying to figure it all out."

Contrary to what detractors would have you believe, Grant Hill is still talented and well worth a roster spot. I don't buy the argument that Hill is a cancer to this team, or that he swindled us out of $93 M and set us back seven years. It is not as though Grant sat on his duff, content to receive his paycheck every two weeks. He worked hard to rehabilitate his oft-maligned left ankle, even after six surgeries. He showed a commitment to this team by not quitting when it would have been easy for him to do so.

Showing incredible dedication, Grant Hill went through the difficult process of getting himself ready to play after suffering numerous ankle injuries.
Photo by Gary Bogdon, Orlando Sentinel

No, he won't ever again post the Robertson-like averages to which I alluded earlier, but he doesn't have to do that to be effective. Last season, he was second on the team in scoring, averaging 14.4 points per game. On top of that, he shot an efficient 52.8%, good for 20th-best in the entire league. That's a remarkable percentage, especially considering that only two other guards shot better than that last season: two-time MVP Steve Nash and two-time NBA championship winner Tony Parker, both of whom are All-Stars.

Even at 34, Grant Hill can still get to the rim.
Photo by Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel

His defense hasn't fallen off, either. He held opposing shooting guards to a Player Efficiency Rating of 14.5, which is below the league average of 15. No, he isn't a world-class defender like Shawn Marion, but he's not a sieve like Gilbert Arenas either.

But Grant's value to this team can't be measured in numbers alone. He's a leader, both in the locker room and in the community. On a team loaded with young players -- Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, Darko Milicic, and J.J. Redick are all under 25 years old -- the importance of a guiding presence in the locker room cannot be overstated. Tony Battie, Pat Garrity, and Bo Outlaw are all veterans, but none of them are veteran All-Stars; they don't command as much respect as Grant does.

Grant Hill doesn't have to be on the court to be an asset to his team.
Photo by Rusty Kennedy, Associated Press

Imagine this scenario: The Magic start Jameer, JJ, a free-agent small forward, Darko, and Dwight. Grant Hill comes off the bench and averages 12 points on 55% shooting in 20 minutes a game. He'd share sixth-man duties with Trevor Ariza and the Magic would at least get into the second round of the playoffs. It's not that hard to fathom; Stan Van Gundy took the Heat, who won only 42 games in the regular season, into the second round in 2003/2004.

The Magic should bring Hill back for his intangibles alone. The fact that he's still a top-100 talent in this league only makes the decision that much easier. Would I call it a slam dunk?

Photo by Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel

Yes, I would.

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