The Suns have made some major changes this off-season. The last remnants of the past era evaporated from the horizon, shimmering and then fading to nothingness in the parching summer sun. Fresh and familiar faces have swirled into the mix, manifesting in the midst of a midafternoon monsoon. The Dragon. SuperCool. KButter. It made me ponder something. We really need some better monikers (although Goran’s is pretty dope). I redoubled my pondering. Was the Suns’ company line of loyalty to the players a mirage? An oasis of duplicity that left me choking on sand and thirsting for answers…
What really happened with Grant Hill?
Did Grant Hill actually want to leave, or was the totality of his body of service for the Suns defenestrated with the carelessness of a mindless automaton incessantly repeating the motto "out with the old, in with the new"? Was it a "basketball reasons" move, or simply a severance of all ties from an old era? Could the break up not be complete with Hill still loitering in the locker room?
This quote from John Luke, Jr. seems germane:
"In a world where the mantra of change often for change's sake is increasingly commonplace, it is imperative for all aspiring leaders to determine answers to the critical questions of, 'What change?,' 'Why change?,' and 'How change?' if meaningful sustainable success is to be achieved from your efforts," Luke said. "Change simply for the sake of change is an abdication of leadership."
Did the Suns answer these questions before cleaning house, or did they do the fans a disservice by jettisoning Hill for the "sake of change".
I think the dismissal/departure of Grant Hill leaves a lack of clear resolution on the questions raised above. Was the parting mutual, or was Grant just taking the Suns’ hints? What exactly are the Suns trying to accomplish, and does that goal become more readily attainable by unburdening the franchise of Grant Hill's continued contribution?
Let's look at the record (after the jump).
Hill was on Arizona Sports 620 KTAR's Doug and Wolf show last Friday.
Question: Were you hoping for a better contract offer than you got?
"As of June 30th, I wasn't necessarily thinking about leaving Phoenix. I wasn't thinking about the Clippers."
"I think the Suns, I think their franchise and the moves they've made are good moves, but I think the expectation maybe has lowered a little bit. I think it's about sort of going through that transformation. Every team, every franchise, every good franchise with good players and a good run, they go through it."
Question: "Did you expect to be a Sun this year?"
"Yeah, I guess I was hoping. I was hoping for that.... When you put your all into a team and you enjoy the environment and the atmosphere it is hard to have closure. It is hard to end it.... I think ultimately hoping that it would work out and it didn't.... It was the time, I guess. I don't know if I'm saying it correctly. Ushering in a new era."
**Grant also mentioned wanting to talk trash to Jared Dudley. It's obvious they have a cordial relationship and enjoy ribbing each other.
Hill did not sound like someone, to me, who wanted to leave the Suns in that interview. I thought he sounded restrained, like he didn't want to be petty or reveal any unsavory details. Check out the full audio and draw your own conclusions. Listening to this reinforced what I had suspected all along. The Suns had made it abundantly clear to Hill that they were moving on without him.
Grant's decision to continue training at the Suns' facilities this off-season doesn't foretoken someone who had one foot out the door. Sometimes actions speak louder than words. Hill's words didn't hint at wanderlust, either. Despite another recent violation of my trust, I believe Hill when he said that he would have liked to continue as a Sun. He sounded like he would have liked to have been here... if the Suns wanted him. They apparently didn't.
Hill shared more thoughts with Suns faithful and valley residents in his full page ad in the Arizona Republic on Monday.
Dear Suns Fans:
I want to thank you for your incredible loyalty, encouragement and friendship during the past five years. It has been an honor and privilege to play in Phoenix, this beautiful and passionate community, as a member of the Suns. The opportunity to be part of such a great organization and city has been tremendous.
My family and I truly appreciate your genuine support over the years and we thank you for so many wonderful memories.
Grant Hill #33
That word loyalty just popped up again. People have been bouncing that around like a basketball this summer. I'm not sure everybody using it understands exactly what it means... Loyal - characterized by or showing faithfulness to commitments, vows, allegiance, obligations, etc. The antonyms - faithless, treacherous, perfidious,
Nash - seem more suited for use. At best, it seems loyalty has been as ephemeral as the last era of Suns basketball, losing definite shape and fading from view.
Loyalty has been more transient and temporary than the expiring contracts of the players. We've all been given an unreserved instruction that the business side of basketball supersedes loyalty.
In the press conference Lon Babby hosted at the beginning of the off-season, he portended a starkly different outcome than what came to pass.
Babby gave a strong indication that Grant Hill will be back with the Suns if he decides he's healthy enough to continue playing. "I don't want to speak for him, but I can't imagine he'd want to play anywhere else...I would be extremely disappointed if he played somewhere else."
I guess Babby must have been extremely disappointed when he heard the news. I'm sure he got over it pretty quick, though. He seems like a very measured and phlegmatic individual. Being impassive and calculating will hopefully pay dividends for him in his current role. The lawyer and politician in Babby has been on prominent display over the last several months. The words, though meticulously selected and deftly delivered, ring hollow. It's hard to discern the whispers of truth from the cacophonous chatter of invention.
Babby also suggested a course of action regarding the future of Robin Lopez at that press conference.
Robin Lopez will also be an restricted free agent this summer and Babby said, "the message I would send out is that it's quite likely, if not certain that we're going to match."
Now we discover that the Suns are participating in discussions that would send Lopez down the road. After the "sun, moon, and stars" rhetoric, the "extremely disappointed" spiel, and the "quite likely to match" balderdash, it would appear that a vote of confidence from Babby is akin to the kiss of death. Forgive my cynicism, but an insight into the front office's purview would be most clearly established by interpreting their comments to have the exact opposite meaning. He hasn't said anything glowing about Dudley recently, has he?!
I really felt this was a situation where it was framed to Hill in no uncertain terms that his contribution to the franchise was no longer desired. With the Suns cap and roster situation, a minimum salary (~$1.35 million) one year offer is insulting. By virtue of Grant's departure and enactment of the amnesty provision of Childress, the Suns essentially haven't even filled Hill's roster spot adequately. They still have an opening on their roster for a small forward that can play 20+ minutes a night. Right now Michael Beasley and Jared Dudley are the only players on the roster who have shown they can play the small forward position at the NBA level and it is arguable whether Beasley is best suited for the spot.
If they'd made a play for a certain small forward, one who could provide unparalleled leadership on and off the court, one who could defend four positions, one who could have come relatively cheap, I think there's a great chance they could have landed him.
I could understand why Hill wouldn't want to be in Phoenix. The team is mired in a rebuild. Hill's opportunities to compete for championships are rapidly dwindling. I could also follow the logic that the Suns were trying to build around youth and potential.
Then the Suns decided to claim Luis Scola off the waiver wire and that train was derailed. If Scola was a bargain to the Suns and fit neatly into their restructuring at 2 years and $8.6 million, how is it that Hill couldn't have been an asset to the team for half of that? Unlike Scola's contract, which is immovable until July 1, 2013, Hill could even have been moved at the deadline for assets to a desperate contender depending on how the situation played out. Considering all the parameters, it could be argued that retaining Hill could afford the Suns more flexibility than the Scola acquisition.
This goes back to the why and the how of the change. The Scola signing indicates that the Suns are trying to be competitive now. Am I to believe that the Suns felt that Hill remaining a Sun hurts their chances to compete this season? Hurts compared to who? It doesn't seem the Suns even had a replacement lined up. Was the plan really to cut ties with Hill and then figure it out later? P.J. Tucker has since been given a partially guaranteed contract. Am I to believe that Tucker gives the Suns a better chance to win than Hill?
Wesley Johnson is now rumored as a possible return in a trade. He of great pedigree. Am I to believe that he was already on the radar before the Suns and Hill parted ways? It really looks like the Suns decided they didn't want Grant, even though they weren't sure who would take his place.
Another thing that I don't discount in this discussion is the value that could have been realized if Grant Hill would have retired as a SUN (I suppose it's still not completely ruled out). Babby himself has alluded to the value players like Nash and Hill have that goes well beyond the court. These are athletes that bring a measure of leadership to the locker room and are pillars of the community. They are ambassadors of Suns basketball, NBA basketball and athletics of any kind. They are role models. I don't think that this parting precludes a possible reuniting between Hill and the Suns down the road. I am quite hopeful that their paths will cross at some point in the future. Grant Hill is the embodiment of a player you want on your team and a person you want affiliated with your organization.
I don't think this was a mutual parting. I think the Suns made the decision to move on, and Hill grudgingly accepted the fact he'd been dumped. We've been awarded a new team, and disabused of the misconception that loyalty still exists in pro sports in the process. The illusion of its existence ultimately a mirage that actually vanished long before this last era of Suns basketball.
Honesty is another value that seems to be incompatible with the business of basketball. I haven't felt that players or executives have been particularly forthcoming with the fans during this recent process. Nor should they be, for that matter. Babby would be foolish to sit at the table and play with his cards revealed. That doesn't necessarily make me feel much better about being lied to or misled. Everything should be taken with a grain of salt. That counts for the players, too.
I don't know the answers to all these questions. I'm still unsure of the Suns' de facto mission statement at this time. I don't know the exact truth of the situation with Grant Hill. I'm not privy to all the necessary information. I piece what I can together from what I do know and the rest is left to searching for shadows in dark corners where the machinations of the Suns front office seem to take place. I still don't know exactly why Grant Hill is not a Sun, but I do know that he will be missed.