CLIPPERS AND GRANT HILL BOTH HAVE CHAMPIONSHIP GOALS

7/18/12

The Clippers and Grant Hill are quite a match.

In need of depth on the wing, the Clippers signed the 17-year veteran free agent on Wednesday to a two-year deal, adding another veteran presence to a roster already geared to contend.

Bringing in Hill, who will turn 40 in October, expounds on guard Chauncey Billups’ comments 48 hours earlier when he told a media contingent that the Clippers were “better on and off the court” after their recent acquisitions of Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom.

According to Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, Hill is precisely the kind of veteran who will mesh with the current unit, strengthening an already deep rotation.

"Grant is going to be a great fit with us,” Del Negro said. “He obviously brings one of the most decorated resumes in the league with him, but I know that his defensive versatility and all-around offensive ability will make us a stronger team.”

In 49 games (46 starts) with the Suns last season, Hill scored 10.2 points on 44.6% shooting to go along with 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 28.1 minutes. It was his fifth season in Phoenix, where two years earlier he helped lead the Suns to the Western Conference Finals.

Hill has transformed from Michael Jordan’s heir apparent (or “Air” apparent, if you will) to somewhat of an NBA MacGyver. He’s an improved three-point shooter, jumping from 25.2% from beyond the arc in his first 12 seasons to 34.6% in his last five. He can defend multiple positions, evident when he was used by Suns head coach Alvin Gentry to effectively guard Chris Paul in one outing and Blake Griffin in another last season. He is a more than capable passer and rebounder and shot better than 80% from the free throw line in eight of his last 11 seasons. He’s a leader, cuts well off the ball, rotates on defense, and does not need the ball in his hands to be effective on offense. In short, he does the subtle things almost as well as the more obvious ones.

While Hill will certainly help on the court as the likely backup to incumbent starter Caron Butler, he’ll also fit seamlessly in a locker room that, according to Griffin, was closer than any team he had previously been around. Hill is a well-respected teammate and widely considered one of the most eloquent and cerebral players in the league.

“With Grant, everyone always talks about his leadership qualities, his professionalism and the right mentality he brings to the court,” Del Negro said. “I have known Grant for a long time and we are expecting him to contribute on the court for us in a major way as well as continue to be that strong presence off the court that he always is. Grant is a player who has been an All-Star, an All-NBA type player and someone who I really believe remains one of the top defensive players in the league.”

Following a sterling four-year career with Duke University, Hill was selected third overall, behind Glenn Robinson and Jason Kidd, by Detroit in 1994. He quickly emerged as one of the league’s premier all-around threats, scoring 25 points with 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks in his debut on November 4, 1994. He went on to win Co-Rookie of the Year with Kidd and was named an All-Star in each of his next five seasons.

In 2000, he signed as a free agent with the Orlando Magic, but persistent ankle problems forced him to miss 199 of his team’s 246 regular season games in a three-year span. Finally, healthy, he bounced back in 2004-05, averaging 19.7 points on 50.9% shooting in 65 games. A year later, he joined the Suns, reviving his career at age 35 and over the last six years he’s played in 93% of his team’s games.

For the Clippers, Hill’s signing is another example of a sea-change in the organization, which has long desired to become a so-called “destination franchise” for free agents.

It’s been the second consecutive landmark offseason. They reeled in Paul, Butler, Reggie Evans, and Billups last year, and matched Golden State’s four-year offer sheet to center DeAndre Jordan. Not to be outdone this summer, they have secured Griffin long-term, re-signed Billups, and acquired Odom, Crawford, and now Hill.
No longer are the Clippers hoping to land a single sought-after free agent, they seem intent on hoarding them.

Butler said the Nets, Bulls and Spurs were among the teams he talked to last offseason and Crawford drew interest from the Timberwolves and 76ers among others. Hill was linked to the Knicks, Heat, and Lakers at various times, but like Butler and Crawford before him, Hill chose the Clippers.

It was a choice that makes sense for both parties. The Clippers are an organization building towards a championship, which is aided by adding a veteran who despite logging more than 1,200 career playoff minutes has yet to reach the Finals. And Hill is joining a blend of former champions (Billups, Butler, and Odom) and another group that, like him, is seeking a chance at their first title.

It seems like a perfect match.