Grant Hill represents everything the Phoenix Suns stand for. Or at least, what they want to represent on and off the basketball court.
He is classy, team-oriented, and willing to do whatever it takes to improve the team's chances of winning. Somehow, he has transmorgrified himself into a defensive stopper of sorts in the late stages of his career as a way to keep himself relevant despite an inability to consistently make open 3-point jump shots - a staple of the Nash-led Phoenix Suns.
In his postseason "Lunch with Lon" press conference last month, the Suns' head personnel honcho Lon 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."
Coming off two knee surgeries in the last 9 months and carrying the mantle of the second-oldest player in the NBA (40 years old next season), Grant Hill will not be breaking any banks this summer. Truly, he will just have to decide how big a role he wants to play in the NBA next season.
Speaking (earlier) of Steve Nash, the two of them have developed a kinship with the Suns that transcends the 48 minutes between whistles that all 14 players face. They were unrestricted free agents together in the summer of 2009, facing the prospect of continuing their Suns careers as the Wondertwins versus parting ways to "chase a ring" with another NBA franchise. In the end, they chose to return to the Suns and in retrospect it appears to have been a foregone conclusion.
Now three seasons, three trade deadlines and one lone playoff run later, they face free agency again. Once again, they have the option to return to the Suns as now-really-aging Wondertwins versus parting ways to chase a ring as a role player. Shawn Marion and Eddie House have done this, winning rings despite playing fewer minutes after leaving Phoenix. Boris Diaw might just do it this year as well.
But this time, neither player is as valuable to any other NBA franchise as they are to the Phoenix Suns. Neither is the top free agent at their position, and neither will garner a long-term, high-paying deal due to their age and injury history. Contenders will try to entice Nash with midlevel exception offers ($3-5 million) and Hill with bi-annual exception offers ($2 million). Only Dallas has the unique combination of money and contender possibilities this summer, but their top target is Deron Williams.
Alas, their choice in the sunset of their careers will come down to money/playing time/Wondertwin status on a might-be team versus peanuts/backup minutes/"role player" status on a winner.
Grant Hill, especially, is going to have to chose between a low-paying backup job on a contender versus a well-paid player-coach type of job with the transitioning Suns. He simply did not have a good statistical season in 2011-12 - offensively OR defensively. Despite our eyes and intuition that Grant Hill is a lockdown defender, his defensive numbers did not bear that out. Likely, that's because he always guarded the opponent's best offensive player. But still, "lockdown" is a relative term compared to the rest of the Suns players.
|2011 - Grant Hill||49||28.1||4.1||9.2||44.6||0.3||1.1||26.4||1.7||2.2||76.1||0.6||2.9||3.5||2.2||1.3||0.8||0.6||1.8||10.2|
Add on the two knee surgeries as bookends to the season, and no other NBA team can possibly feel confident about offering Hill more than the bi-annual exception he signed to join the Suns 5 years (and two contracts) ago.
Lon Babby, for one, feels confident about Grant Hill's decision. And Lon should know, since he was Hill's agent for his entire career before taking over the Suns.
Babby will overpay Hill for his contributions beyond the court as much as what a 40-year old can offer on it. The only real question is whether Hill will retire or not. But even then, he's likely to stay with the Suns in a front-office or coaching capacity. That's my gut feel.
In fact, possibly the best summer option is to bring back Grant Hill to tutor the next swingman-lockdown-defender-team-builder guy the Suns add to the team this summer either through the draft (Jeremy Lamb) or free agency (Nic Batum). Then Grant could truly hand off his cape as he fades into the valley sunset.