Only one series remains open in the conference semi-finals as the Thunder take their 3-2 lead back to Memphis tonight to try to close out the Grizzlies. It's been an impressive playoff run for the Grizzlies, but let's be honest: they're probably done. It was essential they win that 3OT game 4 to take command, and when they didn't that likely sealed their fate. I expect the Thunder to close it tonight, or they'll definitely take a game 7 if it comes to that.
Once upon a time, this series would have featured the Vancouver Grizzlies vs. the Seattle SuperSonics in a clash of Pacific Northwest opponents. Seattle and Vancouver, BC are only about a 3 hour drive apart, but the way they remember their lost NBA teams is quite different.
The Sonics were Seattle's only major professional sports team to bring the city a title. They won the NBA Championship in 1979, defeating the Phoenix Suns in the WCF along the way (ask any old-time Suns fan about this). Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times explains the pain Seattle hoops fans feel upon the success of the Thunder.
Meanwhile, LZ Granderson of ESPN wrote a long but worthwhile and interesting piece on the city of Memphis and their relationship with the Grizzlies.
Seattle, Vancouver, Memphis, Oklahoma City. OK, so maybe it's more like a tale of four cities, but given the contributions of British writers here the last couple of days with the excellent works of Toon Army Sun and keiththejourno, a Dickens reference seemed appropriate.
Tonight's game: Thunder at Grizzlies, 6PM PDT, ESPN. Thunder lead series 3-2.
The timing of this piece, potentially, was pretty good. When you have a crappy, losing season, you look for the little things to celebrate in place of actual team success. You know, those little things that make you feel just a little bit better about the year gone by, where you say "Well, the Suns sucked, but at least this happened". Vince Carter being released would have been one such thing, but sadly that hasn't been done yet. While the Lakers' and Spurs' exits were highly enjoyable, I'm talking about Suns players winning league awards.
As good as he was this year, I think we all knew Steve Nash wouldn't be making the All NBA teams. As impressive as his stats were as a sixth man (and as a starter), we also all knew it was a long shot that Marcin Gortat would come away with the Sixth Man of the Year Award. And unless a bizarre series of events occurred involving a combination of stuffed brown envelopes, large amounts of alcohol and possibly a weapon or two, there was no chance anyone in the Suns front office would walk away with Executive of the Year. Grant Hill on an All Defensive Team though? Absolutely.
If there's one thing that impressed me most this season, it was Grant Hill's defensive efforts, game in game out. I was sure he'd grab a spot on one of those teams. Totally convinced. So with the All Defensive Teams scheduled to be announced several days before this piece was slated to drop, I had it all wrapped up. Never mind breaking down Grant Hill's game, his age, his season performance, his strengths, his weaknesses, etc etc. I could have simply just pointed out that he was voted All Defensive team. That there ends all arguments. You simply can't argue against bringing back a guy who just made an All-NBA Team.
Somehow though, Grant Hill was left off both the 1st and 2nd NBA All Defensive Teams. Genuinely, it shocked me. It meant I now actually had to put some effort into writing a full piece, so here we are.
Lon Babby calls Steve Nash "the sun, moon and stars" of the Suns. I'm not sure I actually agree with that. It's not that I don't think Nash is that awesome, he really is. It's just that the more I think about it, the more Grant Hill is increasingly important to this Suns team. I know he's not our engine like Nash is, but losing Hill would be almost as bad as losing Nash. In three seasons, his hustle, leadership, professionalism and total commitment to the Suns cause has made him vital.
He's part of the team's identity now. When people think of the Suns, they (hopefully) think not only of the fast paced exciting brand of basketball, but of our aging veterans and the superb standards they set in their approach to the game, their team mates, opponents and fans. Trust me, in 10 years time we'll look back and think "how great was Grant Hill, what a top guy, I wish we had more players like him today."
That alone is enough for me to want to see Grant back in a Suns uniform. Even if he had had an awful season, I'd want Grant back with this organisation. You just can't put a price on the personal qualities someone like him brings to a team. (Side note: I'd rather lose with a bunch of superb professionals, than win with a bunch of punks. Look at that Lakers team the other night. I would be ashamed if that was the Suns behaving like that.)
For the sake of it though, let's look at his 2010-11 stats:
G GS MPG FG% 3p% FT% OFF DEF RPG APG SPG BPG TO PF PPG
80 80 30.1 0.484 0.395 0.829 1.0 3.3 4.2 2.5 0.8 0.4 1.7 2.3 13.2
13.2 PPG while shooting an insane .484? Not bad at all. Both those numbers are up slightly from the previous season. He even shot an impressive .395 from three point range this past year. Not bad at all for a career .319 shooter. In other words, his stats haven't dropped off at all from the previous year, despite being another year older. The most significant number though, is the fact that he played in EIGHTY games, missing just two. That would be impressive for any 38 year old, let alone someone who has basically been injured for half his NBA career.
What the stats don't show however, is Grant's efforts defensively. Whether you watched one Suns game or all 82, you would have picked up on his defensive efforts. Night in, night out, he'd be assigned to defend the opponent's best scorer, and he'd bust his arse doing the best job he possibly could. Kobe, Durant, D-Will, Ginobili, Monta Ellis, Nowitzki...hell, even Blake Griffin, Grant took them all on like the BAMF he is. He'd regularly match up with younger, faster, more athletic or just plain bigger opponents, doing the absolute best he could. The result? His opponents were held to 0.83 points per possession.
Here's one such example of a classic Grant Hill defensive performance. Sure, Kevin Durant got his 28 points, but he shot 8-19 in the process. You'll also notice though, that Hill had 30 points and 11 rebounds of his own to lead the Suns to victory in the wake of the J-Rich trade. You'll find many more examples like this. The man flat out brought it every night.
What more is left to say? Solid stats, fantastic defense, great leader, absolute professional and a fan favourite. Oh, he also WANTS to remain with the Suns, saying:
"It'd be nice to come back and prove that we can be better than we were this season," Hill said. "Let's just hope and pray we have a season first and foremost and then we'll see what happens. Hopefully, it works out and we can improve and get better."
Obviously, there will be interest around the league from numerous teams wanting to acquire his services. Last time round it was Boston (bi-annual exception) and New York (full MLE) both making pitches to him. This time round, I'd be surprised if it wasn't more of the same. Regardless of what happens with the new CBA and the lockout, if there's games to be played, teams will be looking at Grant Hill.
It's pretty obvious to anyone that the Suns are effectively out of the mix in the West. Maybe they can simply add a few pieces to get back where they were. Maybe it will take more than that. More than likely though, it will probably take a few seasons. Or at least, that's my realistic view on things. Regardless, it is absolutely vital that Hill comes back, either to be a part of getting back to where we were, or to pave the way with everything he brings to the table. Standards need to be set, and there's no better man in the league to do that than Grant Hill. We should be proud.
If you disagree, frankly, you're wrong. I'll leave you with some Grant Hill Suns highlights.
Addendum: I only wish I could have written this as well as he wrote his New York Times piece. What a man.