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Friday, July 06, 2007

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



At Friday, July 06, 2007 3:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the other hand, maybe Grant Hill will provide them with the ability to play a different game.

The Suns style of basketball has been proven effective by their regular season records and their playoff progress, but ultimately they have been ousted by teams with an ability to play different setups, styles and looks rather than one and the same.

Grant Hill could help them in a halfcourt type of game - if he is able to contribute consistently, of course.

At Friday, July 06, 2007 5:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

It is possible that Hill could help them in a halfcourt game but I don't think that with the skills that he has left and the way Phx plays that he will be that much more effective than Diaw. If Diaw will react better next season to having a reduced role, then perhaps the addition of Hill will improve Phx's depth; Hill and Diaw could split the time at small forward, keeping Hill fresh and hopefully injury-free. I'm just not convinced that with the skills that Hill has left and the system that Phx plays that he is a big enough upgrade to make a difference--and the fact that Hill is not a great (or even good) three point shooter makes him a less than ideal wing player for Phx. Hill is a good playmaker but how much is the ball going to be in his hands with Nash running the show and Barbosa and Diaw on the team as well? Like I said in the post, adding a skilled player at a bargain rate cannot be called a bad move but on the other hand I really don't see this move helping Phx all that much either. The ironic thing is that it would almost help more if someone other than Hill--like Diaw--gets hurt; then there will not be a logjam of players who do the same thing competing for minutes. A few years ago, Portland operated under the theory that you just keep signing the most talented players that you can but after a certain point it is counterproductive. Portland had Sheed, Brian Grant, Jermaine O'Neal, etc. and they couldn't all be on the court at the same time. It will be interesting to see how D'Antoni allocates the minutes and how the shot attempts are distributed. Hill is not a selfish player but he will inevitably be getting some shot attempts and minutes that might have gone elsewhere.

At Friday, July 06, 2007 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Eric S. said...

Think this is a great move by Phx, take a page out of the Phil Jax book, big man runs the point while Nash is out.

Hill, Barbosa, Marion, Stat, Bell
Hill, Bell, Diaw, Stat, Barbosa
OR (against Golden State)
Hill, Bell, Marion, Barbosa, Diaw

Still think they need some meat in the front court, isn't K. Thomas a free agent? Curious to see if the Garnett talks rekindle.....

At Saturday, July 07, 2007 3:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Interesting point of view, but Jackson runs the triangle, so he does not need a traditional point guard. The Phx system is largely predicated on having a point guard pushing the ball up the court and making good decisions. Hill can play the Diaw role within this system but that creates a battle for minutes and I don't think it will be as good for team chemistry as Ric Bucher does. I'm also not sure that at this point in his career that Hill can play the Diaw role better than Diaw. Diaw is big enough to play center at times, so he is more versatile than Hill; Hill is more "skilled" overall but I'm not sure that he is a better fit than Diaw in this system. If he is, it's not by much, and that still leaves the playing time issue that I have mentioned.

I'm not saying that signing Hill is bad--it makes sense overall--but I just don't see this really improving the Suns substantially. I agree that the Suns still need more beef in the frontcourt. They would have been better off replacing Jones with a guy who could come off the bench and get 8 points and 6 rebounds while playing post defense. If KG arrives then Amare or Marion departs and I still don't see the Suns improving all that much.

At Saturday, July 07, 2007 3:40:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Great Article, but Hill can contribute more then James Jones did last season. With the rest of the team improving the Suns can win the title this season.

At Saturday, July 07, 2007 6:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nash, Hill and the boys are well on their way to a championship. The problem is the Suns can't JUST rely on GH to bring them the experience so they can win it all. He doesn't provide enough security that he'll play all season, therefore, the Suns need to go out and find yet another solid bench player. It's worth being over the salary cap, as this is the type of team and year to try and aim for the championship. I also wrote up on GH to the Suns. Check it out at www.clutch3.com

At Saturday, July 07, 2007 11:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous 2

this move will help the suns not substantially but they dont need substantial help. they were right there with the spurs last year even though they didnt have stoudamire in game 5 and nash didnt play like a mvp in game 5.

see too me the phenix suns will be the bulls trying to beat the pistons early 90's the pistons trying to beat the celtics late 80's or the kings trying to beat the lakers. the kigs didnt work out the other 2 did, the spurs is getting older and have never repeated they have that going for them. but you never know if another team will emerge next season either, plus nash is going to be 34 years old. believe or not i heard that marion and stodamire feel nash gets too much credit for the team, but i think the suns will be there agian but as you said it's championship or bust for them.

At Sunday, July 08, 2007 2:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Let me be clear that I am not saying that Jones is a better player than Hill; I am merely suggesting that he may be a better fit for a certain role (spot-up three point shooter) than Hill is. Unless Hill finds the fountain of youth in Phx and starts going to the hoop with abandon like Amare and Marion, the shots that will be most open for him will be three pointers on the wing. Maybe D'Antoni will add some wrinkles to the offense to incorporate Hill's midrange game but it remains to be seen how that will affect the other players and their roles.

The Suns are actually trying as hard as they can to get under the cap (or, more precisely, to lessen the amount that they are over the luxury tax threshold). That is part of the reasoning behind the Hill move and could also play a role in other moves by the Suns.

The Bulls had MJ and Pip when they beat the Pistons; the Pistons had Isiah and Dumars when they beat the Celtics. Nash has more MVPs than all of those guys put together (except for MJ of course) but time will tell if he can take a team as far as those Hall of Famers (or future Hall of Famers MJ and Pip) did.


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