Grant Hill's arrival in Los Angeles is the latest and clearest sign that the Clippers are on the right track to title contention. Hill may be past his prime, but the fact that he picked the Clippers should tell you everything you need to know about the state of this team.
Hill will be 40 years old by the time the 2012-13 season starts. He is still a decent player in spite of that fact, but his ability to make a difference on the court is not the most significant part of his signing with LA.
However, before we can understand what that is, we need to understand the current state of Hill’s career. To do that, we need to look at examples of past players who have been in similar situations.
Hill’s story is one that we have seen many times before in the NBA. An older star whose best days are far behind him signs with a team in order to chase the championship that has eluded him thus far. This happens almost every season, so there are plenty of examples to discuss.
In 2003, Karl Malone joined Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and put on a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. As sacrilegious as it seemed to some, Malone desperately wanted to achieve the only thing his Hall of Fame-worthy career lacked: an NBA title.
Fellow Hall of Famer Gary Payton joined Malone in this endeavor, helping to create a team that started four future Hall of Fame players. Despite their star-studded lineup, the Lakers fell in the 2004 NBA Finals to the superstar-less Detroit Pistons.
Two years later, Payton would try again, this time in Miami with O’Neal, and would finally be successful in winning his only title.
Last season, Shane Battier chose to sign with the Miami Heat. A role player, Battier had always brought defensive toughness and a smooth shooting stroke to whatever team employed him.
However, it had never been enough to help that team get to the biggest stage. He was finally able to do that this past year as a key role player who hit big shots in big moments for the Heat. His championship chase paid off.
This offseason, Hill’s Phoenix Suns teammate Steve Nash has done the same thing. A two-time MVP, Nash has never won a title. It is clear that he requested a trade to the Lakers to accomplish that goal with Kobe Bryant.
He will have to contend with Hill’s team, a crosstown rival, in order to do so.
You may wonder what the point of all of these examples is. The answer lies in the teams that signed these players.
One thing they all have in common is that they were championship contenders. For these veteran players and future Hall of Famers to sign with these teams, they had to believe they were legitimate championship contenders.
That is the most significant aspect of this Grant Hill signing for the Clippers. It proves to the world that they have arrived and are a serious threat to the other big-time teams in the NBA. When a seven-time All-Star chooses your team over the Lakers, it is proof that you have something really good going.
That’s what the Clippers have. Last season, the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin combo worked well. Now the Clippers just need to figure out what pieces to surround them with and how to fit them together.
Hill is not a great player anymore. That much is obvious at age 40. But that on-court impact will still be there, and is less important.
The important part is what his arrival says: the Clippers have finally arrived.