Are the Suns Climbing the Hill or Over the Hill?The Phoenix Suns reportedly agreed to terms with free agent forward/guard Grant Hill for a two year contract paying $1.8 million for 2007-08 and nearly $2 million for 2008-09, which will be an option year for Hill. Since the Suns apparently will trade James Jones to Portland as part of the draft day deal between those teams, Phoenix has essentially swapped Jones for Hill while saving close to $1 million in salary. This certainly cannot in any way be considered a bad deal for the Suns; they are spending less money on a better player. The problem is that it is championship or bust time in Phoenix. The Suns have been a top contender for several seasons now, Steve Nash has won two MVPs and finished second in the voting last year--but Phoenix has yet to make an NBA Finals appearance in the "Nash era." Suns supporters can talk your ears off with tales of woe explaining why Phoenix "could have" or "should have" made the Finals in various seasons but I much prefer the attitude displayed by this year's Finalists, San Antonio and Cleveland, which was best expressed by Cleveland Coach Mike Brown and Cleveland superstar LeBron James, who each said in heat of the moment press conferences, "We are a no-excuses team." Champions don't talk about what "could have" been or what "should have" been, because the reality is that if you are looking for a reason or excuse to fail you never have to look far--and whatever energy is spent on that search is better directed toward figuring out how to win the next game.
Hill was once considered to be Michael Jordan's heir, which is of course an impossible burden to place on any player. Hill was in the midst of an excellent career when a series of injuries robbed him of hundreds of games and much of his athleticism. Now he is a solid veteran who understands how to play the game and who can have some "flashback" moments or games now and then. He improved his midrange jumper after his injuries and that is a vital part of his game now because he can no longer explode to the hoop at will. Hill is a way below average three point shooter and his durability will always be a question mark. So, while he is unquestionably a better player than Jones, is Hill actually a better fit for the Suns? Jones is a very good spot-up three point shooter. The Suns' offense is based on Steve Nash dribbling around until he breaks down the opposing defense, resulting in lanes for cutters or an open three point shot from the wings. Hill is not the man to shoot those open threes and I question if his body is ready for a full season of cutting hard to the hoop game after game. While no one can criticize Phoenix for making this move, I wonder whether it in fact puts the Suns any closer to winning a title, which at this point is the only acceptable or meaningful goal for this team. Nash will be 34 by next All-Star break and that is a dangerous age for small guards. Granted, Nash has beaten the odds so far by continuing to improve even as he moves well past age 30 but how likely is that trend to continue? John Stockton played until he was in his 40s but he was never as fragile or injury prone as Nash has been; Nash has not missed many games in the past few years but he has a balky back and there is always an issue of whether or not he will wear down deep in the playoffs, neither of which were concerns regarding Stockton. The Suns need to be mentally and physically tougher to reach their goal and they need to be a better halfcourt offensive team. Hill will not hurt them in any of these areas--but he won't improve them much in any of those categories, either.
ESPN's Ric Bucher asserted that adding Hill will improve the Suns' chemistry. It is interesting that there are always chemistry issues bubbling just below the surface in Phoenix and perhaps even more interesting that the mainstream media generally ignores these concerns. Why should anyone have a problem playing with Nash or for Coach Mike D'Antoni? Yet, it seems that Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Boris Diaw are not always happy with their roles. Diaw (and to a lesser extent Marion) is most likely to be affected by the acquisition of Hill, who wants to be a starter. Certainly, if Hill is healthy, one would expect that he would start over Diaw--but Diaw performed much better when he was a starter two years ago than he did last year when Stoudemire's return to form relegated him to a lesser role. I'm not as convinced as Bucher is that Hill's arrival is going to improve the Suns' chemistry.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:23 PM