After a 19-year NBA career that includes seven All-Star appearances, 40-year-old Los Angeles Clippers forward Grant Hill may retire following this season.
Hill was drafted third overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1994 NBA Draft after a distinguished college career at Duke. Despite a co-Rookie of the Year campaign and subsequent All-Star selections with the Pistons, his career has been marred by injuries, particularly during his six-season stint with the Orlando Magic.
Hill signed with the Clippers in the 2012 offseason as a free agent after five seasons with the Phoenix Suns. He expected to return to Phoenix following the 2011-12 season, but the one-year, $1.35 million deal they offered paled in comparison to the Clippers’ two-year, $4 million deal.
However, recurring injuries haunted Hill once again after joining the Clippers. He started the season on the inactive list due to a bone bruise in his right knee—a similar issue he experienced during his tenure in Phoenix. He returned to action on January 12, but has played sparingly in the Clippers’ rotation—he’s averaging a career-low 3.2 points per game on 38 percent shooting.
As such, the veteran acknowledges that there’s a likely chance he will retire before entering the second year of his current contract with the Clippers.
“Strong chance,” Hill told USA Today. “I’m leaning toward it (retirement). I want to get to the end of the year and off-season and think about it but I’m pretty confident that’s where my mind is right now. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Before Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Miami Heat forward LeBron James were mentioned in Michael Jordan’s heir apparent conversations, Hill was the topic of focus. Hill had the versatility, athleticism and prodigious basketball acumen that allowed him to excel early on in his NBA career.
The 6-foot-8 Hill would facilitate the offense for the Pistons, whether it was finding and dishing off to an open teammate or filling up the point total for himself. His quiet demeanor was offset by a multi-faceted game that spoke volumes—he constantly led his team in points, assists and rebounds—as a result, he found his name juxtaposed with greats like Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor, who led their respective teams in the aforementioned categories for more than one season.
After a sign and trade deal that sent Hill to the Magic, nagging ankle injuries kept him from being the triple-double threat he once was. Hill even missed the entire 2003-04 season.
As an unrestricted free agent in 2007, Hill found himself in Phoenix. Great players have the ability to reinvent themselves and that’s exactly what Hill did with the Suns.
Realizing that his diminished explosiveness hampered his ability to light up a scoreboard like he used to, Hill refocused his efforts on defense. As a result, he became Phoenix’s lockdown defender who would typically find himself guarding the opposition’s best scorer.
“I think as you get older and things become a little bit more difficult to do, you think of ways of reinventing yourself and being out in Phoenix for five years, they needed me for defense and to guard the other team’s best perimeter player,” said Hill. “I think I kind of, sort of, fell into that role and did pretty well.”
The Clippers hoped Hill would be that same player upon arrival in Los Angeles, but it appears the only similarities lie in his body’s inclination to injuries. However, Hill’s veteran savvy is a welcome asset, especially when it comes to imparting knowledge to the younger Clippers brethren.
There is hope that before Hill retires, he could have an opportunity to obtain the one thing that’s eluded him in his career—a championship ring. The Clippers reached 50 wins for the first time in franchise history on Wednesday. Ironically, it was against his old team the Phoenix Suns. Boasting a deep, talented roster could allow the Clippers to make a deep playoff run and possibly a crack at the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
It could happen, but if it doesn’t, Hill has no regrets.
“We have the ability and the talent to beat anybody,” said Hill. “I have no regrets. It’s been a great experience.”
Ben Hernandez Jr.
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