Aaaaannd, there's the first bump in the road. After three seasons in which Grant Hill missed a grand total of three games to become the Suns' relative iron man, his run at health has ended.
A torn meniscus in his knee will require minor surgery today, according to Suns' beat writer Paul Coro of azcentral.com, knocking him out until at least mid-April if not the whole remainder of the season. That's quite a blow to a Suns team that just a few days ago tasted the playoffs on the tips of their tongues and started pushing off summer plans.
"He's our glue guy," Suns guard Jared Dudley said after the Suns lost to the Clippers without [Hill] Wednesday night (as posted in the azcentral article linked above). "He calms us defensively. He's the best defensive player. He's the one who guarded Chris Paul at home and slowed him down. Offensively, he is efficient and gets out on the break and that makes other people guard him and open up 3-pointers. He posts up and makes the extra pass."
After blowing out Cleveland last Sunday, the Suns were back on a roll that saw them win 11 of 15 games to get over .500 for only the second time all year. Then Grant Hill's knee didn't recover from a hard hit, one that didn't compare to the one he absorbed from LeBron James only a week before. Then, in a tight loss to the Spurs, Nash's back started to act up. And now the Suns must be asking themselves, what next?
Well, the Suns do have options.
The loss of Grant Hill is bigger than you would think by looking at his stats. Hill averaged 10.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists this season in just under 30 minutes a game. Those numbers can be reproduced by many a player in 30 minutes a game, including the Suns' own Shannon Brown.
But we all know his biggest contribution was guarding the other team's best perimeter player, whether it be a wing or a point guard. This role is vitally important to any team with Nash in the lineup so that 2-time can take the lesser offensive threat while biding his time for the next offensive possession. With Hill in the lineup, the Suns can be assured that their opponent's best offensive player will have to work especially hard for their points without needing to provide double-team help.
So what can the Suns do without Hill?
Option 1: Move Jared Dudley to starting SF, play Shannon Brown, Michael Redd and Ronnie Price more minutes at SG
As the Suns did on Tuesday and Wednesday with limited (little to no) success, they could bring Brown's scoring to the starting lineup. The problem is that leaves Michael Redd and Ronnie Price to team with Sebastian Telfair in the second unit. That second unit failed miserably in the Clipper game, and doesn't engender a lot of confidence in Suns fans going forward.
Those problems were compounded, though, by the loss of Markieff Morris to the flu bug which moved Hakim Warrick off the bench and into the second-unit rotation with Michael Redd. There are very few defensive pairings in the NBA that are a worse option than a Redd/Warrick one. I mean, that is just ridiculous. With Warrick and Redd out there against San Antonio in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, the second unit allowed the Spurs to start the fourth on a 17-4 run. Ouch.
Option 2: Dust off Josh Childress to take at least half of Hill's minutes
The Suns have what used to be a helpful NBA rotation player in Josh Childress gathering dust on their bench. He seemed to lose a lot of his game in Greece, though, and now appears to be out of sync most of the time and unproductive even more often than that.
But if given a role for the rest of the season, it is possible that Childress could find his game again, which happens to look a lot like Grant Hill's except for the jump shot.
Option 3: Sign Aaron Brooks for the rest of the season
We talked about this before and we know it's best to keep Brooks' rights this summer, which wouldn't happen if the Suns sign him now. If the Suns give him a prorated one-year contract for a month, he would be unrestricted this summer.
However, Brooks would represent a nice scoring option off the bench as a shooting guard. Sure his defense would be deplorable, especially at the SG position next to even-littler Sebastian Telfair, but we could probably count on 12-15 much-needed points per game.
Is he better than Michael Redd? Yes.
Option 4: Sign free agent SF Rasual Butler to play Grant's minutes
Butler was waived by Toronto last week, but scored 11.9 and 11.2 points in 32-33 minutes a game the two previous years with the Clippers as their starting small forward. He is a career 36% shooter on 3-pointers (better than Michael Redd), with his best year coming in 2009-2010 at 39%. He has a quick trigger on 3s, averaging 4.4 and 5.3 attempts per game in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Given this Suns team's need to make open 3-pointers and relative inability to do so (Butler's .358 career average is higher than all but three Suns are shooting this season), he could be a welcome surprise. Add in that Butler does have a reputation of being a passable defender, and just maybe it could work out.
However, Butler has been horribly inefficient on offense in his career, with a career PER of 10 (average NBA player PER is 15) and not even approaching that since the 2009-10 season.
None of these are sure-fire options, and none as good as having Grant Hill in the lineup.
Pray for a quick recovery!