Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Divergent Careers of Grant Hill and Jason Kidd

Jason Kidd and Grant Hill's shared history includes various accolades. (

Grant Hill never became what he could have been, eventually being marginalized as a veteran, though still effective, presence on the Los Angeles Clippers' bench in 2012-13. Jason Kidd went out near the top, starting more than half of the games in which he played for a resurgent New York Knicks squad this season a mere two years after winning the only NBA championship of his career with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.

The two entered the Association in 1994, each making an immediate impact to the point that Hill and Kidd shared Rookie of the Year honors. From that point on, their careers would be forever tied together. While each found success in the roles they filled for 19 years in the NBA, Hill's was profoundly more understated after injuries compounded by trying to return to action too early to allow for proper recovery. While Hill was toiling away in Orlando, trying — and, largely, failing — to be the star player the Magic expected when acquiring him from the Detroit Pistons, Kidd was powering the New Jersey Nets nearly single-handedly, leading the franchise to consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003.

To a degree, those years defined Kidd and Hill. That era assured Kidd would become a hall of famer, ensuring a first-ballot entry if he hadn't already earned one. Hill's time in Orlando changed the trajectory of the latter half of his time as a professional basketball player, changing his perception as the "Next Michael Jordan" into one of a sure-fire starter who had no more upside to capitalize upon. One common theory states Hill's career should have been shorter by several years, but all the time he missed with the Magic (Hill played in just 200 games over six years) and time spent with the vaunted Phoenix Suns staff for another five seasons elongated his durability.

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Whether or not one puts any credence in that idea is a personal decision, but one number matters over all others when looking back at an NBA career, and that is the number of rings a player won, used — perhaps somewhat unfairly — to indicate success and the intrinsic value of a player to his teammates and the franchise employing him. Hill undeniably had the potential to be a game-changer for a team, but derailed by health issues, including a potentially fatal staph infection, he was never able to make the impact he could have in Orlando, when he should have been peaking. The salt in the wound for Hill is that, five seasons after trading him, the Pistons won a championship in 2004 without a defined star player, thriving on chemistry. The closest he would come was in 2009-10 when the Suns made an unexpected run to the Western Conference Finals, falling 4-2 to a rival Los Angeles Lakers team that would capture that season's title. The Suns front office made a mess of their roster next season, landing Phoenix outside the postseason with Hill ready to walk out the door, all while Kidd was playing an integral role for the Dallas Mavericks and claiming his sole championship and the validation that so many strive for and fail to obtain.

Now, early into their retirements, Kidd is pursuing a head coaching job, making a push to fill the Brooklyn Nets' vacancy and fortify his legacy with the franchise. Hill's apt basketball mind and well-thought statements will surely not be unnoticed by television networks in need of a fresh view, although it would not be out of the question for Hill to pursue his own road to coaching. But with Kidd all but guaranteed to be enshrined as soon as possible, the new theme following Hill is not if he will get into the hall on his first ballot, but if his career deserves hall of fame acknowledgement at all.

It is the kind of drama that has followed Hill for the majority of his career. Kidd amassed his own list of commotion-causing incidents, mostly off-court, that put him in the middle of drama of a different sort. In the end, though, Kidd has that ring; Hill does not. Both had great careers, even if Kidd played nearly 16,000 more minutes and more than 300 more games than Hill. The perception held to Hill early in his career will likely affect his post-playing status among the ranks of greats, despite it changing mid-career.

Players retire. Storylines do not. Thus is the life of a professional athlete.

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