Name: Grant Hill
2012-2013 Key Stats: 3.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 15.1 mpg (in 29 games)
Years in the NBA: A million
Years with the Clippers: 1
2012-2013 Salary: $2,045,065
Contract Status: Signed through next year
In a Nutshell
I was overjoyed when the Clippers signed Grant Hill last July. Here was a pro's pro who'd battled his way through serious injury to come back and contribute deep into his thirties (he is, at 40, the oldest player in the NBA), years when most players are finding themselves in a steep fade or out of the league. When healthy, Grant Hill has always been a complete player, from his early days as Rookie-of-the-Year and an All-Star point-forward for the Detroit Pistons to his latter day expertise as a superior floor-runner and shooter for the Phoenix Suns, But it was on the defensive end that Hill is really memorable. Stick him In against the opposition's best player, regardless of position, stir lightly, and watch him expertly do his spider-attack thing.
But that didn't happen this year. Instead Hill was injured early, missed much of training camp and the entire first half of the season. While the Clippers probably figured he'd become a fifteen to twenty-five minute backup to Caron Butler, Hill found himself buried on the bench behind the surprisingly effective play of Matt Barnes.
It happened in February, in a game against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Carmelo Anthony spent the third quarter burning the Clippers. Vinny Del Negro, desperate for an answer, looked down his bench and saw the pleasant, intelligent face of Grant Hill. Hill came in the game and attacked, playing 15 late minutes, and shutting down Anthony... leading the Clippers to a 14 point win.
Yahoo, right? Not so fast. Unfortunately for Hill, Vinny, and the Clips, it never happened again. Del Negro tried to find a spot for Hill in the rotation, but an ill-advised experiment with Hill as backup power forward failed, and Del Negro didn't care to mess with the not-brilliant but not-bad Caron Butler to Matt Barnes one-two punch. When Chris Paul went out with injury, Captain Vinny even gave minutes to Hill at the point, but Hill never found his rhythm and never found a spot in the rotation. (He made only one appearance in the playoffs, in the drunken, ludicrous sixth game).
But it seems Hill's speed and open court prowess should have fit well into the Clipper's open court bench scheme. He's always been a solid shooter with an ability to get to the rack. His size, quickness, and strength seem relatively un-diluted even at forty.
But Grant Hill's most valuable feature might be his age and the size of his brain; on a team where enthusiasm often seems to overcome sense (see DeAndre Jordan), Hill's calm, heady demeanor might be seen as an asset on the Clipper's bench and in the locker room. Ironically, it might have been Hill's passivity and grace that allowed Del Negro to keep him on the bench; he isn't a guy likely to carp or criticize. Should he have openly complained or whined about minutes, the Clipper's spongy coaching staff probably would have acquiesced. (There's a reason Chauncey Billups saw big minutes in the playoffs, even while he continually proved himself to be totally ineffective... on both ends of the floor.)
Uh. Well, Grant Hill IS forty. And it's hard to measure how much he has left. In the last two years he's totaled only eighty games (although the three years before that he averaged 80 games each season). How much does Hill have left? And how much does he want to play? Moreover, how much does he want to play for the Clippers? Even though he was out for the first half of the season, he probably could have come back sooner if the team had needed his skills... and he clocked long strings of DNP-CD's at the end of the season even though he was perfectly healthy.
Future with the Clippers
Hill has another year on his deal at $2 million, which is fairly expensive for a twelfth man... and he has hinted at retirement. But, if the Clips lose Matt Barnes to free agency or package Caron Butler as part of a trade, Hill might still be a valuable and relatively inexpensive bench player. Despite the benefits of keeping him around, I'd put the likelihood of his return to the Clippers at around 20 percent.