C's Want to Improve in 07-08? Get Grant Hill

April 1, 2007

Savvy veteran exactly what Celtics could use

I don't know if he'd come here. I don't know if he's even going to play next year. But if I'm Danny Ainge, the one veteran free agent I'd go after this summer is Grant Hill.

It might require the Celtics actually using their full mid-level exception. It might require a sign-and-trade if Hill figures he's worth more, although he turns 35 in October. But can you imagine a better veteran presence for the Celtics than the classy Hill?

"Just the leadership he brings, especially to a young team, is huge," said his coach with the Orlando Magic, Brian Hill. "He leads by example with his effort in the game, with his effort at practice, and by the way he handles himself on and off the court. He's simply the consummate professional, a great mentor for these younger players."

Grant Hill is finishing up the seven-year deal he signed when he joined the Magic in 2000. Not to overstate matters, but it hasn't gone exactly as he planned. In his last year with Detroit, he averaged 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. He was as accomplished a swingman as there was in the league. But in his first six years with Orlando, he appeared in 135 of a possible 492 games, missing the entire 2003-04 season because of injury and all but four games of the 2000-01 season.

This year, he has been, for him, a model of health. For the first time in his Orlando incarnation, he will be playing into April and playing meaningful games. He has never gotten beyond April 1 before.

"It may not be looked upon as a huge accomplishment by anyone else out there, but, for me, considering what I've been through, to be playing now, to be in a position to make the playoffs, to be contributing, and to still be able to play at a high level, it's a great feeling from that standpoint," he said. "But the flip side is that you're older and you have physical limitations and you can't do some of the things you're accustomed to doing. It's life, I guess."

After playing only 21 games last year, has this year given Hill any second thoughts about going forward? Brian Hill said he hopes that if Grant Hill does continue, it's in an Orlando uniform. Grant Hill said he has not made up his mind.

"I really don't know," he said. "I'm going to wait and see. Do I want to continue? The one thing I feel now is that I can play. That's a good thing considering that if I do go forward, that I know I can contribute. I'm not like I was in 1995, maybe, but I can still go out and play. But my focus now is getting this team into the playoffs."

Hill has never known what it's like to win a playoff series, and that's unlikely to change this year should the Magic get in. As great as he was back in the 1990s, the Pistons teams he played for never finished higher than third place, mainly because Michael Jordan was still around. The Pistons never got out of the first round, and in two of his six seasons, they didn't make the playoffs at all.

But merely being in the mix this time of year is satisfying simply because it has been so long. Can you believe the last time he was in the playoffs, he was coached by George Irvine and counted Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner, and Jerome Williams as teammates? Stackhouse is still around, playing the Sixth Man role for Dallas. But Laettner and Williams are gone, as are Terry Mills, Michael Curry, and John Crotty from his last Detroit team.

And there were times in the last several years when Hill wondered if he, too, was a goner. That's why this season - even though he missed 17 games (it's the left foot and the right knee this time) - has been so personally gratifying.

"I think the lesson in the last seven years is that when you have these kinds of hardships, that you've got to get back up," he said. "In my case, I was entering my prime [in 2000] and I was on top of the world in terms of my game and understanding the game.

"Everybody gets knocked down at some point - maybe not on a public stage like I did - but it's how you respond and go forward that matters. I'm probably more proud of my attitude and my approach this year than anything else I accomplished prior.

"The fact that I'm still standing and still playing and not defeated makes me feel good."

Can you imagine such a voice schooling Delonte West, Al Jefferson, and Gerald Green? Think he could offer a few words about adversity when times get tough? And if Doc Rivers does return, he might even get a chance to coach Hill for more than 29 games in one season.

You know Doc would endorse the move. Is it a long shot? Sure. But maybe no more unrealistic than what Hill is doing in 2006-07. Not many figured that was going to happen, either.

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