Grant Hill in his return to Orlando on Wednesday (Getty Images)
There’s no official announcement, most likely his camp would prefer to do as much after he clutches the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time this June, but all indications in a borderline furtive discussion with the Orlando Sentinel point toward Los Angeles Clipper forward Grant Hill retiring after this season. Even if he stopped short of using the word "retire."
Hill gave away as much on Wednesday before his short-handed Clippers beat the super-short handed Orlando Magic by an 86-76 score. Perhaps it was the Orlando setting that moved Hill – a player that missed 374 out of a possible 574 games as a member of the Magic between 2000 and 2007 – that pushed Hill into this admission. Regardless of how he got there, it’s a bit of a downer. From the Orlando Sentinel:
"I'm 40 — come on," he said.
Fittingly, cruelly, in his final season, Grant has had to overcome two knee surgeries, having played just 14 games for the Clippers.
He doesn't buy the notion that his body was preserved sitting out most of his seven seasons wearing Magic colors.
"Doesn't matter. Forty is still 40," he said.
Typical Grant, though, you couldn't pry the word "retire" out of his mouth.
He just gave a long, blank look and frowned like he's losing his best friend. And he is.
That doesn’t sound like a cheery, “aw shucks, I’m an old man” sort of speech. That sounds like someone who is definitely bummed at the prospect of having to hang it up. Hill enjoyed a terrific five-year run with the Phoenix Suns after leaving Orlando, averaging only seven missed games per season, but he’s sat out of all but 14 of his Clipper team’s first 51 games. He’s returned in time to see Chris Paul go down with injury, and the Clippers losing six of eight entering their contest with the Magic.
Constantly working through these sorts of setbacks can age a player far more than the “time off” from sitting out so much NBA ball would stave off the aging process. Also recall that this was before the game that a weary Hill was talking retirement.
Grant Hill was injured for Orlando because Grant Hill wanted to play for Orlando. Not only was he rushed back too early from an ankle injury for Detroit late in the 1999-00 season, he pushed up his debut with the Magic so the team’s boffo free agent acquisition wouldn’t look like misspent money. He was injured and re-hurt (one time almost dying due to a staph infection developed during his many surgeries) consistently because he attempted to return early just about every time.
According to Brian Schmitz, Hill offered to take a significant pay check to play with the new Stan Van Gundy-led Orlando Magic in 2007. The Magic, not Hill, passed.
The league will miss Hill — as will young players who need his counseling. Hill said he tried to reach out to [Dwight] Howard a few years ago, hoping he could offer some guidance. Grant never heard back.
Because Dwight Howard has everything together, y’know?
The boos weren’t deafening in Orlando on Wednesday, but we’re pretty sure they weren’t for former Magic hero (and, in a lot of ways, Hill replacement) Matt Barnes, who entered the contest at the same time. We do know that whoever decided to boo Grant Hill just doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Nobody feels worse about his seven-year Orlando stint than Grant Hill. No person took it harder, and no person knows what Hill went through in order just to make it back to a respectable 65-game stint in 2006-07.
We’re not giving Grant the sign off treatment yet. We’ll wait for the official announcement, and enjoy the next few months as the Clippers (missing not only Paul but Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford on Wednesday) right their ship and head into the playoffs with a fascinating cast of characters and talents. Then, we’ll see how far they go – May, maybe late June – and keep an eye out for that familiar “33,” knowing that it won’t be around much longer.
Then we’ll clap. As each and every Orlando Magic fan should have been doing on Wednesday night.
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