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The NBA
Jackie MacMullan
January 10, 2000
Soaring MarketIn the midst of a superb year Grant Hill weighs the options awaiting him
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January 10, 2000

The Nba

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MINUTES PER GAME

PLAYER, POS., TEAM

1998-99

1999-2000

DIFFERENCE

Ruben Patterson, F, Sonics

6.0

26.8*

20.8

Former Lakers 12th man (left) is scoring in double figures as starting small forward

Brian Skinner, F, Clippers

12.3

28.2

15.9

Was averaging 1.86 blocks and 75 boards before ankle sprain sidelined him in mid-December

Dirk Nowitzki, F, Mavericks

20.4

36.3

15.9

Slow to develop as a rookie, he's now among top 25 scorers with 18.1 points per game

Al Harrington, F, Pacers

7.6

20.6

13.0

Averages of 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds, up from last season's 2.1 and 1.9 respectively

Austin Croshere, F, Pacers

9.2

20.3

11.1

Has doubled his totals of previous two seasons in points, rebounds, assists and blocks

Othella Harrington, F, Grizzlies

22.0

33.0

11.0

A backup in Houston for three years, he's Vancouver's third-leading scorer (13.5 ppg)

Kelvin Cato, C, Rockets

12.7

23.1

10.4

The Scottie Pippen trade has made this former Blazers backup Olajuwon's heir apparent

Adonal Foyle, C, Warriors

14.0

22.7

8.7

Subbing for injured Erick Dampier, he averages 6.4 rebounds and 2.07 blocks

Troy Hudson, G, Clippers

21.0

28.9

7.9

Former CBA playmaker averages 9.8 points and a team-high 4.4 assists

Bryce Drew, G, Rockets

13.0

20.2

7.2

Averaged 40.3 minutes, 15.3 points and 5.7 assists in his three starts this season

* Stats through Sunday's games

Soaring Market
In the midst of a superb year Grant Hill weighs the options awaiting him

May be it's his lean, unmarked body. Maybe it's because even when he's turning the ball over, he does it with surpassing grace. Whatever the case, we've become so accustomed to the stylish way Grant Hill plays that we've been lulled into believing it's effortless. But after five All-Star seasons with the Pistons, the 27-year-old Hill admits, "There are already things I can't do that I could when I was 19. O.K., maybe I can still do them, but they hurt a lot more."

He acknowledges that his place in the NBA hierarchy has changed. The player who seemed destined to lead the league into this millennium no longer inspires teen-idol hysteria. The adoring fans have moved on, wooed by the ferocity of Vince Carter's dunks and the dazzle of Kobe Bryant's reverse layups. Attendance in Detroit is sagging, even though Hill is in the midst of his finest season, at week's end averaging 26.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists, while shooting 47.1% from the floor and 82.5% from the line. Hill has added range to his jumper, hitting 10 of 30 threes through Sunday (he was 0 for 14 last season), and has perfected a baseline spin move.

"Here's how I look at it," Hill says. "I got too much credit and too much attention when I was young, and I probably don't get enough now. It all balances out."

What's certain is that Hill and Spurs center Tim Duncan will get the lion's share of attention when they become free agents this summer. Hill is amused by the rumors that he and Duncan, who have the same agent, Lon Babby, will sign in tandem with either the Bulls or the Magic. What are the chances of the two stars wearing the same jerseys next season? "I don't know if Tim would come to Detroit," Hill says, adding quickly, "I'm joking." Hill will not tip his hand on his plans until the summer, when he'll be forced to make a decision.

Here's what SI can tell you that Hill won't. First of all, forget about Chicago. Pistons and league sources say Hill has no interest in being part of a rebuilding project. Orlando? Even with him the Magic would be a long shot for a title, and, sources say, Hill has questions about why the two best players in franchise history—Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway—skipped town. Hill has also told friends and teammates he would prefer to remain in the East, so ignore the inevitable rumor that the contending Lakers will sign him for less than market value. The Raptors may take a run at Hill, but he and Carter are small forwards, and while Hill is the ultimate team player, his ego is healthy enough that he won't take a backseat to a younger star. That's why, even though the 76ers fantasize about ways to clear some cash to land him, the presence of Allen Iverson makes that prospect unlikely.

So whom does that leave? Why Detroit, naturally. Yet the Pistons are also a flawed choice. At week's end the team's record since Hill arrived in 1994-95 was 209-198. Detroit has neither a true point guard—with all due respect to Lindsey Hunter, who gives a valiant effort every night—nor a true center, since Bison Dele announced his retirement before the season.

Dele's departure gives the Pistons more than $6 million to recruit new players, yet Hill privately frets over how the money will be spent. The front office, with its decision-by-committee approach, hasn't exactly excelled in free-agent signings. (See Loy Vaught, if you can find him way down the bench.) Pistons officials also worry about what another blue-chip player would do to the psyche of guard Jerry Stack-house, who is having a career year now that Joe Dumars is retired. Another uncertainty is the future of coach Alvin Gentry, who is in the final year of his contract. If Gentry doesn't return, Hill could be playing for his fourth coach in seven seasons.

Hill can recite all his team's shortcomings, but he'll also tell you he believes in loyalty an considers the desire to play for one franchise for his entire career an important factor (as does his father, Calvin, a major influence). Grant's wife, Tamia, is from nearby Windsor, Ont. Hill also knows that if he leaves Detroit, he does so as the guy who couldn't get it done there. Yet if he stays, he could wind up trapped in mediocrity. "If I dwell on this stuff, it takes away from what I'm supposed to be doing now," says Hill, "and that's not fair to anybody."

Hey, Grant, take this free advice: Sign a one-year deal with the Pistons this summer. With another year of service you will be eligible in 2001-02 for a contract beginning at $11 million a season (as opposed to $9 million a year after this season). In the meantime, you give the franchise that drafted you one more year to get its act together and assemble the supporting cast you deserve. If Detroit doesn't, you can move on, perhaps to a new suitor ( San Antonio?) that will have more cap room two summers from now. You might wind up playing with Tim Duncan after all.

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