Grant Hill swiftly exercises option, sends message about keeping team together


A Phoenix Suns player exercised his option to return to the team next season.

No, it wasn’t Amare Stoudemire, who told The Arizona Republic there’s “no chance” he will pick up his option, rather Grant Hill officially decided to remain a Sun by exercising his $3.3 million player option for 2010-11, the Suns announced in a release late Tuesday.

“The decision to stay in Phoenix was easy,” Hill said in the release.  “Our team’s success on the court last season was the result of the efforts of a great group of guys and I’m looking forward to building on that with them and being a part of this team next season.”

Of course, Hill essentially announced this decision during the playoffs and then re-confirmed it the day after the Suns were eliminated by saying he’d be back “unless word gets to me that I can get the max between now and July 1 from some other team.”

Yes, he was joking.

Hill did not need to exercise the option today on June 8, a week and a half after Phoenix’s special season came to an end. But by doing so speaks volumes about his commitment to the team.

Grant didn’t even think about the fact that he could leverage his productive playoff run into a bigger deal than the the $3.3 million he’ll be making with the Suns next season, especially on a one-year basis when so many teams have money to burn.

By exercising the option today, Hill is making a statement that’s he’s 100 percent committed to what’s going on in Phoenix. Many players paid lip service to the possibility of bringing everybody back for another crack at it next season; today Hill showed such talk is more than lip service to him.

“Last year, Grant explored free agency before ultimately deciding to return to Phoenix,” Hill’s agent, Lon Babby, said in the release.  “This season has been so gratifying for him and for the Suns that he wanted to act quickly to confirm that he will remain in Phoenix.  He looks forward to building on this season’s success.”

Hill (along with Steve Nash) has set the tone for the Phoenix Suns all season, so it’s fitting for Hill to take the lead again this offseason after Nash inspired such faith last year by signing his two-year extension that kicks in this season. While guys like Amare and Channing have spoken about how nice it would be for everybody to come back (while talking about the kind of monster payday they are looking for in the next breath), this statement by Hill puts such words to action.

Really it’s amazing that Hill will be playing a 17th season after all the injuries he suffered earlier in the decade. But the so-called warlocks on the Suns’ training staff have kept Hill healthy enough to play 163 of 164 regular-season games the last two seasons as well as every playoff game.

Hill averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 boards last season, the most rebounds he has pulled down since 2002-03 and the most total caroms he has been credited for (445) since 1999-00.

Hill emerged as the Suns’ stopper down the stretch, turning around the Portland series with his sticky ‘D’ on Andre Miller, slowing down Manu Ginobili against San Antonio and then at least making Kobe work against the Lakers.

We’re talking about a player once looked upon as the next Michael Jordan completely reinventing himself as a role player offensively who can go off at times (such as the third quarter of Game 2 against the Lakers when he hit a flurry of open mid-range jumpers) and the kind of defender who takes the opposition’s best perimeter player.

Although he doesn’t boast the same athleticism as the Fila and Sprite Grant Hill, his smarts and craftiness have allowed him to develop into the kind of role player winning teams possess, and thus how fitting it is that Hill’s season ended two games shy of the Finals after his first 15 years never netted him even a trip out of the first round.

What’s most telling about Hill is the fact that after the Suns defeated Portland to finally get Hill out of the first round, the veteran was actually embarrassed by all the talk about him, saying he was just trying to enhance the Amare Stoudemire legacy and help youngsters like Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic get some real playoff experience.

It would have been natural for Hill to take a second to think about himself in what should have been a momentous occasion for him. I sure would have if I were him.

But even then he was thinking about his teammates and what this experience means to them.

There’s a reason Grant Hill recently became the first three-time winner of the league’s Sportsmanship Award.

While he isn’t a superstar anymore, he’s still the ultimate professional, setting the tone for a room full of young players who follow his every move.

The future of the Phoenix Suns is better just for Hill being around another year, and then there’s the fact that even as he approaches the age of 38 by the time preseason rolls around, we’re still talking about a very effective basketball player.

It’s a question for another day whether this will be Hill’s last contract. All he said during the season was that he feels great and would like to continue playing so long as he can still do so at a high level. With the emergence of Jared Dudley and the potential emergence of Earl Clark, the Suns are also in the cushy position of not having to rely on Hill for anything more than what he’s capable of providing.

It’s impossible to know the makeup of the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns at this point, but we do know that Grant Hill will be part of the roster at a very reasonable salary for the kind of production that he provides.

That’s a very good thing for the franchise, and it’s even better that he made a statement by officially committing to next season so early.

“We’re thrilled that Grant has decided to exercise his option and return to the Suns next season,”Suns GM Steve Kerr said in the release.  “He is a critical part of our success, both because of his skill as a player and also his leadership and professionalism that help guide our team.

“Grant sums up what the Phoenix Suns are all about.”