Suns Sign Grant Hill to Two-Year Deal

By Jerry Brown
East Valley Tribune
July 5, 2007

Just five days into free agency, the Suns are done shopping — leaving with exactly what they wanted. What started as a rumor in April became a reality Thursday when seven-time All-Star Grant Hill committed to the Suns.

The deal will not become official until the league’s salary cap is officially set on Wednesday. Hill, who turns 35 on Oct. 5, will earn Phoenix’s biannual exception for this season ($1.83 million) and a player option for 2008-09 (the salary would increase to almost $2 million).

Hill’s agent, Lon Babby, said as many as 15 teams called to inquire about Hill’s services and many were willing to offer more money.

It was also difficult for Hill to leave Orlando, where he will continue to live with his wife, R&B singer Tamia. Hill and his wife are expecting their second child soon. The Magic made a big move Tuesday by signing free agent Rashard Lewis.

But Babby said Hill, who has never been past the first round of the playoffs, stuck with his first priority: To play for a winner. “Grant wants to win a championship,” Babby said. “In the end, he felt Phoenix gives him the best chance.”

Hill also wanted to play where he could make a significant impact on the fortunes of the team, and Phoenix might offer more opportunity than suitors like Dallas, Detroit, Miami and San Antonio. The Suns could start him at small forward, joining center Amaré Stoudemire and power forward Shawn Marion up front with the backcourt of Steve Nash and Raja Bell. Add in Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw (the other starter possibility) and Kurt Thomas, and Phoenix’s eight-man rotation would be their strongest in the (coach Mike) D’Antoni era.

Hill also gives the Suns another “point forward” playmaking option (along with Diaw) and an opportunity to rest Nash more during the regular season. Phoenix sees him as an offensive upgrade over James Jones, who would have made more money ($2.9 million this season).

Babby said Hill spoke with Nash over the past few days and sources said Nash was the one who placed the call. Hill’s relationship with Suns assistant coach Alvin Gentry, who was Hill’s coach for five seasons in Detroit, was also a plus.

Hill’s seven years in Orlando were highlighted by his injuries (five surgeries on his left ankle, one for a hernia) and frustrations (he missed 281 of 328 games in his first three years in a Magic uniform). He returned to All-Star status in 2004-05 (19.7 points per game), only to have more injuries limit him to 21 games the next year.

But last season, thanks to ankle rotation therapy and other exercises that improved range of motion, Hill was re-energized and finally finished a season on the floor. He played in 67 games, putting up 14.4 points and shooting 52 percent from the field to show he still has plenty to contribute.

“Grant is healthier than he has ever been. That’s the best it has been in a long time,” Babby said. “He’s going into the season expecting to be fine.”

Mercury coach Paul Westhead, who was an assistant coach with Orlando (2003-05) said that a healthy Hill will have no problems keeping up with the Suns and their high-tempo style.

“You look at all the injuries, but he had a lot of pop left,” Westhead said. “He could run the lanes on the break as well as anyone.”

Babby said one of the deciding factors was Phoenix’s well-respected training staff, led by Aaron Nelson. The Suns had the fewest games lost to injury in the NBA last season and the trainers are known for their aggressive, cutting-edge approach. D’Antoni’s short, light practices — as opposed to a Pat Riley in Miami or an Avery Johnson in Dallas — likely played in the Suns’ favor as well.

Unless the Suns can find a team interested in Thomas’ $8.1 million salary, leaving Phoenix a chance to possibly pursue P.J. Brown as a cheaper alternative, their roster is pretty well set. The top eight players are joined by Marcus Banks, Eric Piatkowski and draft picks Alando Tucker and D.J. Strawberry. There are indications veteran center Sean Marks could return and the team will take a hard look at former Raptor Pape Sow in the Vegas Summer League.

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.