In a wide ranging talk with ESPN's J.A. Adande, Grant Hill talked about a lot of things. He talked about beating Larry Johnson and the rest of the defending champion UNLV Runnin' Rebels when he was a freshman at Duke. He talked about beating the Dream Team (the first one, the real one) in a scrimmage in 1992 and the impression Larry Bird's work ethic made on him. He talked about his lost years in Orlando ("I'm proud that I survived, if that makes sense") and the changes in the NBA over the course of 17 seasons.
And he talked about his retirement.
Hill told Adande that he hasn't made a decision, and then proceeded to speak like a man who had made a decision. ("This will probably be it.... My body and also my mind are in agreement on this.") At age 40 and reduced to the third string for the first time in his career, it's not surprising that Hill would feel that way. He's still got a couple of weeks of regular season and a playoff series or four to go and he could yet make a major contribution to this Clippers team, but there's little question that things have not worked out the way he would have hoped when he signed with the team.
Hill's first season in L.A. was undone primarily by two things: a bruised knee and Matt Barnes. When Hill first signed with the Clippers in July 2012, he was the second small forward on the roster, destined to play significant minutes backing up Caron Butler. After a couple of seasons of Ryan Gomes and late season appearances by the likes of Bobby Simmons last season, the Clippers were thrilled with the prospect of Hill as their second string small forward. I personally thought that Hill was one of the sneaky good signings of the off-season, and he might have been had not the Clippers made an even better signing.
But free agent Barnes was working out with the team in the training facility over the summer and signed a contract just before training camp. When Hill was injured on the pre-season trip to China, Barnes stepped into the backup three role and quickly became indispensable to coach Vinny Del Negro. Barnes has had a career-year with the Clippers, is currently fifth on the team in scoring, and is Del Negro's wing stopper. During the 10 weeks Hill spent on the sidelines to start the regular season, the Clippers went 28-8 with Butler as the starter and Barnes as the closer. There was no question of changing the small forward rotation when Hill returned to action.
Del Negro experimented with Hill at the four in a small-ball second unit featuring Lamar Odom and Hill as the bigs. It was an intriguing idea with five semi-interchangeable defenders in which the Clippers could switch almost any screen and still hold their own, but that unit never really found its rhythm. It didn't help that Paul was injured immediately upon Hill's return to action, forcing the rotations into disarray with key reserve Eric Bledsoe stepping into the starting lineup for Paul.
Hill's incredible versatility served the Clippers well in what little action he has seen this season. A natural wing, with those positions relatively healthy and deep, the bulk of his minutes this season have come checking power forwards on the defensive end and handling the ball on offense while Paul and Chauncey Billups were injured.
Despite his lack of a role on the team, Hill still managed to make a major contribution to a key win this season. During the game against the Knicks in New York, Hill entered the game late in the third quarter and spent the final 14 minutes defending Carmelo Anthony. Anthony had been torching the Clippers, but Hill immediately shut him down and the Clippers went on to win the game.
In recent weeks however, Del Negro has abandoned the small ball lineup and Hill has fallen out of the rotation. He's gotten seven DNP-CDs in the last 10 games. He may yet have another contribution to make to the team -- he proved against Anthony that he can still be a lockdown defender, which could prove useful in the playoffs against a Kevin Durant or (fingers crossed) a LeBron James. But that appears to be the extent of his role at this point -- emergency defender.
So it's not surprising that Hill is leaning toward retirement. It's not even the first time he's hinted at it this season, making similar statements in Orlando back in January. He's 40 years old, the second oldest player in the league. When he was receiving his Rookie of the Year trophy in 1995, Blake Griffin had just turned six. Along with Jason Kidd and Juwan Howard, he's one of just three players still active from the 1994 draft. To give you some idea of how long ago that was, the Clippers picked Lamond Murray in 1994. Monty Williams, in his third season as head coach of the Hornets, was drafted in 1994.
So yeah, "this will probably be it."