If granted opportunity, Hill wants to keep going
Grant Hill says he is not carrying a 38-year-old body.
However, Hill now is the second-oldest player in the NBA following the retirement of Shaquille O’Neal, one day younger than fellow graybeard Kurt Thomas.
Many remember Hill as an athletic swingman with a flat-top haircut catching alley-oops from Bobby Hurley and winning national titles for Duke. But 17 years after he was the third overall pick in the draft by the Pistons, Hill remains without an NBA title, with a twice-reconstructed ankle but the desire to continue.
He watched Jason Kidd, a fellow rookie of the year, win his first title last month, and is willing to keep striving for an opportunity to play in the Finals. Hill’s career has gone from one of promise, to misfortune, to longevity, and he is willing to wait out a potentially long lockout.
“You definitely want to win, especially when you see somebody you are kind of linked to and somebody you have known for many years get there,’’ Hill said last week. “I don’t have too many more years left, so we have to wait and see. But it would be nice to do what [Kidd] was able to do this past season.’’
Because of several ankle surgeries, Hill stands just 21st among active players in games played with 948. In fact, Kidd has played 319 more regular-season games than Hill, or the equivalent of four seasons. The Celtics’ Paul Pierce, who entered the NBA four years after Hill and lost 32 games of his rookie season to a lockout, has played in 16 more regular-season games than Hill.
So, it’s not surprising that Hill, a pending free agent, feels he has something left, and he’s flourished the last four seasons with the Suns, playing 313 of a possible 328 games, and averaging 13.2 points last season, his best in four years. He could be attractive to a team pushing for a title, a versatile, intelligent, and still skilled player who knows how to win.
Hill can’t wait to get started with a team, but there is the issue of the lockout. Hill was one of the few current players to be in his prime during the last lockout, having just completed his fourth All-Star season in four years. That time off during his formative years was difficult.
“I think you learn a lot looking back and having a chance to reflect,’’ said Hill, who averaged a career-best 25.8 points in 1999-2000, the first full season after the lockout. “I think every one of these [lockouts] is worth it. I think the game recovered. I think the game is in great shape now and irrespective of what happens or whether we get it done or we have a work stoppage, the game is in a good position.
“I think this time around guys are better prepared. It was kind of crazy last time, and this time it might get crazy again.’’
Hill is concentrating on staying in shape, and he takes nothing for granted after ankle problems and a hernia cost him significant parts of four seasons. In his six seasons in Orlando (2000-07), Hill played just 200 games. He blamed the Magic for misdiagnosing an ankle injury and botching the initial surgery, and spent years trying to regain the form that made him one of the game’s best scorers. He never quite got back to that level, but Hill was able to reinvent himself.
“I think going through all that helped me really learn and understand how to take care of myself, just really being in tune with my body,’’ he said. “I feel like I wear down more mentally than I do physically. I went out to Phoenix thinking I’d play two years, and now it’s four going on five. I don’t want to put a number on it. I want to take it year by year, but I definitely have a lot left in the tank.’’
Depending on his price and desire to come off the bench, Hill could be a target of the Celtics. He has a strong relationship with Doc Rivers, who wanted Hill to sign with Boston before he opted for Phoenix. Perhaps if Hill had remained healthy, Rivers’s coaching stint in Orlando would have been more successful.
“He was great, still is, he’s a friend,’’ Hill said of Rivers. “He was so supportive. It’s woulda, coulda, shoulda, we might have done some pretty good things together but it didn’t happen. I think I’m a better person going through all of that. And he’s a better coach. I think he will tell you that. It’s prepared him probably even more so what he’s doing now in Boston. It hasn’t hurt the friendship or relationship, at least I don’t think so, but it was an unfortunate set of circumstances.’’
Ellis is sixth on the all-time 3-point list with 1,719 despite hitting just 12 as a rookie and starting fewer than half his 1,209 games.
Ellis, who played until he was 39, was in his final season when he spent a training camp and 18 regular-season games with Allen in Milwaukee.
“I liked Ray the first time I saw him, the way he shoots the ball, his technique,’’ said Ellis, who has been conducting basketball camps in Malaysia and Indonesia with other retired players. “He’s fundamentally sound. He shoots it from the chest area. I was amazed at the height he gets on his shot. Most shooters don’t jump as high as he does and shoot the ball at the same time. I see him being around a very long time.
“And for him getting the record, for me, it couldn’t have happened to a better person. Not only a player. He’s a good guy.’’
Allen recently exercised the option on his contract for next season, and has showed no signs of slowing down despite approaching his 36th birthday. Long-range shooters who take care of their legs generally enjoy extended careers, and Allen has said he would be willing to accept a reduced role in the future.
“Guys look at age, and they shouldn’t,’’ Ellis said. “They should look at athletic ability. You can have a guy 50 years old playing to the level of a 38-year-old player, almost 50 years old, I truly believe that. I see [Ray] playing 20-plus years easily. Don’t take a look at his year but take advantage of his athletic ability and play him in spots; he’ll be around for a long time.’’
Ask any shooter, active or retired, and they will tell you they can get up off the couch and drain threes. That confidence is almost mandatory with great shooters, according to Ellis.
“I’m the best shooter of all time,’’ he said. “I know that from the jump. I set the standard. I gave them something to shoot for. I was the first player in the history of the game to get 1,000 3-pointers. To be able to play on that level, you have to have that attitude about yourself. You can say it’s arrogant or cocky or whatever, but that’s OK. There’s no way you can compete without it. There’s no way you can excel without that confidence level.’’
And there appears to be a logjam at forward with Williams, Wesley Johnson, and Michael Beasley, who enjoyed his best year as a pro last season despite Kurt Rambis’s limiting triangle offense. Beasley said he will call his teammates to organize offseason workouts, but the lack of structure and Rambis’s uncertain status make it difficult.
“With everything going on around our organization, we can still hoop, just as players, not even as NBA players,’’ Beasley said. “Go play pickup, just work on our craft, stay tight. But I feel like this is too early in the summer to have a snowball effect on [the team]. I feel like we’ve still got the momentum. We’ve got Ricky Rubio in the gym finally and he looked great. We look real good right now and I feel like it’s too early in the summer to slow us down.’’
Williams worked out in Minnesota with Beasley before the lockout.
The second overall pick claims he is a small forward with a power forward body, while Beasley is a power forward more comfortable on the perimeter.
“We play fine, with his skill set and my skill set we can do pretty much anything we want,’’ Beasley said. “I can set the pick. He can set the pick. I think he can shoot better than a lot of people thought he could. He can really stroke the ball. He can handle it a lot better. We can be the perfect 1-2 punch, inside-outside, mismatches all over the floor.’’
Beasley also pledged his loyalty to Rambis, although the Timberwolves supposedly have decided to fire him, but have yet to make it official.
“I love Rambis, a great guy, a great coach, he knows a lot about the game,’’ Beasley said. “But at the same time, it’s a cutthroat business. I don’t want him to go anywhere, but if he does, that’s the business.’’
There is a weaker class this year, with West joining Tyson Chandler and Nene as top-tier free agents. And now the lockout will delay the Hornets from determining whether West and point guard Chris Paul, a potential free agent in 2012, are part of their future.Paul is a member of the Players Association executive committee.
“We’ve got to stay together,’’ he said. “It’s one big group. We have to stay unified. We have seen it coming for so long. It’s not like it’s, ‘I can’t believe this.’ ’’
General managers and prospective free agents cannot even speak, let alone discuss a potential contract, putting the Hornets, like many teams, in limbo.
Layups The Cavaliers and Kings beat the lockout with a trade that sent Israeli forward Omri Casspi and a conditional first-round pick to Cleveland for power forward J.J. Hickson . . . Teams are still able to hire or fire coaches, and the Pistons appear to have pared their list of candidates to Mike Woodson and Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank. Expect team president Joe Dumars to be very careful about this hire because he has bombed in his previous three - Flip Saunders, Michael Curry, and John Kuester - and new owner Tom Gores wants to see immediate improvement . . . The Bobcats continued to prepare for the summer of 2012 by moving the contract of Stephen Jackson to Milwaukee for Corey Maggette, meaning Charlotte has committed to only $29 million in salaries for the 2012-13 season. Boris Diaw’s $9 million comes off the books and the Bobcats already moved the contract of Gerald Wallace to the Blazers. Former Portland general manager Rich Cho has taken over in Charlotte and is a salary-cap specialist . . . Any team that wants Greg Oden will have to make a major financial commitment after the Blazers gave the big man an $8.8 million qualifying offer for next season. Portland can match any offer made to Oden, who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2012 if he remains on that deal. The Celtics have interest in Oden, but not at that price.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.