Friday, March 21, 2014

The Touchy Topic of Grant Hill's Magic Exit


7 years, $93 million. 200 regular season games. 4 playoff games. That's Grant Hill's tenure in Orlando from 2000 to 2007. One thing I've learned in my time as a media member is that there are still secrets in basketball. Some that never get uncovered. We don't have Otis Smith's detailed non-GM viewpoint on the Grant Hill situation. Who knows when or if we ever get it. We know that G-Hill said during his final season in Orlando that he owed the fans and team a healthy version of himself. What we also know is that a 35-year-old Grant Hill signed with the Phoenix Suns - $1.8 million plus a player option of $2 million the following season - just over a week after the July free agency period opened in 2007. It supposedly shocked the Magic. This was following Hill's 2nd-best season ever as a member of the Magic - playing 65 games and averaging 14.4 ppg - as it honestly appeared that Grant might finally find a good streak of health.

Grant Hill is going to be honored by the Magic organization on Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers for 'Legends Night'. Even now Hill is a unique circumstance. Every other former Magic man that had been honored by the Orlando franchise was brought back on a Friday. Grant's a good man. He's done plenty of great things for this community. I don't advise fans to boo Hill, but it's understandable not to applaud.

Here's a Magic fan's perspective on Hill's exit back in July '07:

I didn't believe he would take $93 million of the Magic's money and then run off somewhere else now that he is healthy. 
Wow, I could not have been more wrong about a person. Grant Hill turned out to be the same mercenary, selfish athlete that has taken over professional sports over the years. He truly had us fooled as to his character. In 2000, the Magic took a chance on a superstar on crutches and gave away Ben Wallace, arguably the best defensive center over the last seven years. How much different might it have been had we kept Ben Wallace? They took a chance on [Hill], paid him an exorbitant amount of money and got nothing for it. 
The Magic had a $93 million cheerleader for the last seven years. He was a wolf in sheep's clothing. And when it came time to pay back the loyalty and favor given to him by the Magic, he turned tail and ran off to another team with a parting comment that it was "time to move on." 
Grant, you barely moved at all for seven years, and now it's time to move on? At one time, you might have been held up as a role model. Now, you are a selfish, self-centered mercenary who belongs in the hall of shame. Shame on you, Grant Hill.
Ouch.

Whether it was Grant seeking a better training staff and/or an improved shot at a championship along side Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, or it was Otis and the Magic telling Grant to hit the road, we don't truly know the truth about why Orlando didn't retain Grant for a cheap two or three million. Otis was busy putting a championship team together for Stan Van Gundy with the help of Rich DeVos' checkbook. Hill may or may not have been in those plans.

Another aspect one needs to remember is that Brian Hill got fired after the Magic were eliminated in the '07 playoffs (the only Magic postseason G-Hill participated in). Did G-Hill like Stan Van Gundy? Did SVG like Hill? Was Hill that hellbent on not playing shooting guard? Back in May of 2007, Grant seemed to have two options in his mind: 1. Play for the Magic in '07-'08 or 2. Retire. That's it. So you can again see why Magic fans were angry to see Hill bolt to another franchise less than two months later.

That 2007 offseason was maybe one of the busiest in the franchise's history. Smith had to negotiate contract extensions for the '04 boys: Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. Smith had to figure out what to do with Darko Milicic, who was playing his best NBA basketball in Orlando. Could Otis keep Darko at a reasonable price while at the same time going after Rashard Lewis? The answer was obviously no. Could Otis depend on Hedo Turkoglu to hit his prime and thus make G-Hill's exit less painful? The answer was a resounding 'yes'. Otis and the coaching staff were expecting improvements out of guys like JJ Redick, Trevor Ariza, Keyon Dooling, Keith Bogans, and Marcin Gortat to add bench depth and replace Hill's production.

It's pretty evident that getting rid of G-Hill meant that Otis was handing the leadership reins at the time to a 21-year-old Dwight and also Jameer. The 2009 trip to the Finals is as a result of the moves made in '07 (with the help of '08 draft pick Courtney Lee and a brilliant Rafer Alston '09 trade deadline acquisition). Whether you believe Otis forcefully pushed Hill out or you think Grant walked determines how you react to Grant Hill's return this coming Tuesday.

Grant Hill retired without a championship ring. In that regard, most Magic fans got their wish and are ready to bury the hatchet. One of the best college players of all-time, a successor to Michael Jordan's throne, was robbed of his prime by injury and a near-death staph infection. The Magic franchise and fans unfortunately had to standby and wait, watch, and hope that pre-millennium G-Hill would arise from the depths of all those injuries and missed games. It never happened in Orlando. If G-Hill did indeed bail on Orlando, then basketball karma occurred with the Stan Van Gundy Magic competing for a title while Hill wasted healthy years on a declining Suns squad.

I'm ready to move on. I won't celebrate Hill, but I won't boo him. Again, I respect everything he and his wife did for this Orlando community. I'll respect the one All-Star season we got out of Grant. I'll respect Hill for continuously trying his ass off to return to the Magic healthy and better than ever. But the fact is that his contract and all of the games Grant missed crippled the Magic franchise. If Hill was healthy in '03-'04, that nightmarish season never occurs. McGrady never would've wasted his best years on a franchise that was barely a playoff contender because of all the cap space Grant took up. The '00-'07 Hill time period should be viewed as a black hole of unfortunate circumstances. Nothing more, nothing less. Let Hill enjoy retirement. Let Hill have a rich NBA commentating/announcing/analyst career. Let Grant reflect on some of those great memories he had in Orlando. Let Hill describe the Magic in a positive light moving forward.

I'll end this post with the always grimace-worthy G-Hill timeline.

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