Adam Auslund was a long time intern for multiple shows on the FOX Sports Network, but has now found his place, and a job, working for The Petros and Money Show.
Originally from Nor Cal, he’s been described as a bitter, broken sports fan ever since he experienced the rare "Hat Trick of Death" where all 3 of his teams (Sacramento Kings, San Francisco Giants and Carolina Panthers) all lost their respective sports’ championship game in the short span of a year and a half.
Adam now tries to look at sports from a less serious, more irreverent perspective, because that’s what helps bury the pain and keep him sober.
So Grant Hill announced his retirement yesterday on TNT's pregame broadcast and it got me thinking about the direction his career could have gone. Maybe I read too many Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid and enjoy the hypotheticals, the the fork in the road talk, but we all know that if Grant Hill didn't have that stubborn left ankle injury late in the 1999-2000 NBA season things would have been much, much different.
What if Grant Hill wasn't such a nice guy and didn't succom to fan pressure to play in that first round series of the playoffs for Detroit that same year. Then he wouldn't have played on an ankle that was thought to just be a sprain, but was actually broken, and therefore wouldn't have exacerbated the injury and put a cap on what looked like a limitless amount of potential and talent to tap into as he was entering his best years as a pro.
Afterall, he was a 27 year old point/forward coming off his best season, averaging 25/6/5 while shooting 48% from the floor. Those are numbers certainly deserving of a max contract, which the Orlando Magic were happy to give him, not thinking he'd only give them 200 games of work over the next 7 season in return. 200 games where he was only a fraction of his former self, btw.
Orlando at that time was desperate to replace two players that had taken them to the Finals a few years early with Shaq and "Penny", and were looking to reward fans who hadn't given up on the organization after they let Shaq go for nothing in '96 and then traded Penny to the Suns for Danny Manning, Pat Garrity and two 1st round draft picks the summer before.
While hindsight would prove trading "Penny" was a wise move-- as he was just a year away from the dreaded microfracture surgery that would put the nail in the coffin of his own injury plagued career-- little did they know they'd just replaced him with another scuffed-up penny, who was about to disappoint Magic fans far more than Dwight Howard ever did. Hey, at least D12 played well on the court for them before wanting out in the most dragged out, annoying and awkward way possible.
So in comes a hobbling Grant Hill, fresh off his first ankle surgery, on crutches still, probably looking like a 6’8 “tiny Tim” to sign a 92.88 million dollar contract with the Orlando and form would could have been one of the most devasting tandem’s the NBA had ever seen, because the Magic had also grabbed Tracy McGrady from the Raptors.
It was a unique pairing of slashing guards, one that could have taken the league by storm, but unfortunately for the Magic and NBA fans, Hill’s ankle wouldn’t cooperate, and from the combination was doomed before it ever got started.
Hill only played 4 games that first year with the franchise and it didn’t get much better from there. So while T-Mac was fulfilling his end of the bargain, becoming the best scorer in the league, the Kobe Bryant of the East (and was probably better at that point), Hill spent most of his time wasting away on the bench. What should have been his best years became an endless torture cycle of surgery, rehab, a handful of games, more surgery, more rehab, and so and so forth. By the summer of 2004, 4 seasons had past, and Hill had only played in 47 games, and was now 31 years old.
He had missed his prime. The window was shut for his peak years as a player. The dream of what he could have become vanished like Kaiser Soze.
So let’s play through the what ifs. If Hill stays healthy, it’s likely he and T-Mac contend as one of the top teams in what was a very weak Eastern Conference at that time. They would have beaten a one man show in Philly, where Allen Iverson led a bad Sixers team to the finals in 2001, and they also would have contended with those Jason Kidd running and gunning New Jersey teams that made back-to-back finals appearances.
So they still lose the Laker team in 5 games in the Finals, but oh well, at least they made it. And maybe with a some well thought out roster moves, they could have recruited some former stars that wanted one last shot at a ring to come and join them on the cheap.
Also, If Grant Hill is playing, does Tracy McGrady still break down the way he did, also before entering his prime? Many cite the fact that he had to carry a Magic team, with one of the worst supporting casts in NBA history, as the reason the injuries piled up so quickly. Perhaps Hill significantly lightening the load also extends McGrady’s career. Plus, if Hill is healthy and they're winning, McGrady never demands a trade to the Rockets. And oh yeah, they never fire Doc Rivers as their head coach.
Having 2 wing, slashing, scorer types of that caliber joining forces via free agency also would have been historical for the NBA. The orginal Wade/Lebron combination of it’s kind, and something we would have used to compare the Heat stars alignment to.
Back to reality though. Ultimately you can sum up Grant Hill’s career as unfulfilled potential. It’s most people’s biggest fear in life, including this blogger.
Perhaps if Hill would have been more selfish, less of a team guy and the consummate professional he was, and not returned too early from that ankle injury in Detroit, we would instead be talking about a sure Hall of Famer, and maybe one of the top 50 players to ever play the game.
Maybe Derrick Rose has the right idea. Forget what the fans want. Forget what the organization wants. Don't worry about anyone but yourself.
And here's some video of the kind of explosiveness Grant Hill had before the injuries...and the reason you drank Sprite.