The 6'10" combo center/power forward has started 55 out of 63 games this season, posting career-high numbers across the board. But he also has a $9 million price tag attached to his team option, and if exercised, it will greatly reduce any chance of chasing an elite max-contract player.
At age 27, Hill is in his prime. His 12.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in an economical 27.6 minutes per game represent a step forward in his career arc.
His methodology as a scorer has evolved as well. Once known primarily for close-up work, Hill has added a mid-range game, with 37 percent of his field-goal attempts occurring between 16 feet out and the three-point line. He is connecting on 39 percent of those shots, per Basketball-Reference.com.
In fact, he even made his first trey of this season in a close loss to the Golden State Warriors on March 16. Hill's stat line that night was an impressive 15 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Selected as the eighth overall draft pick in 2009 by the New York Knicks, the former Arizona Wildcat has come into his own with the Lakers. As Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News reported on the eve of the trade deadline in February, Hill is hoping to stick around:
I want to be here. I want to be in a steady place I call home. ... I'm just feeling more comfortable out there. I pass the ball better. I shoot the ball better. I'm trying to do whatever it takes to get better.
But as Lakers coach Byron Scott pointed out, per Medina, getting better is a must.
"My biggest thing with him is playing harder because I know he can," Scott said. "I've seen glimpses of it. If he can get that on a consistent basis, he will be a double-double guy. That is something Jordan has to figure out."
It is clear that Hill adds value to the team.
He is not, however, the face of the Lakers' future.
Los Angeles will head into the offseason with two main objectives—to add talent that can complement aging superstar Kobe Bryant in what will likely be his final season, and to target players who can assume lead roles long after the Mamba is gone.
The first order of business will be the upcoming NBA draft on June 26.
The Lakers will have as many as two first-round and two second-round picks. That includes a date with the bouncing Ping-Pong balls if they can hang onto their top-five-protected selection this season.
If indeed L.A. drafts near the top, it will be hard to ignore frontcourt studs like Duke's Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky's Karl-Anthony Towns and shot-swatter Willie Cauley-Stein.
After the draft comes free agency and the need for financial flexibility.
Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times estimates the NBA's salary cap to be roughly $67 million for next season. Bryant will take up $25 million of that amount. The next largest hit is Hill. As Pincus notes: "With Bryant, but without Hill, the Lakers project to have roughly $23.5 million in spending power this summer."
But if the team exercises its option for Hill, there will be just $14.5 million to spend on the open market once it opens for business July 1.
And make no mistake, top free agents like Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe, Goran Dragic and Jimmy Butler won't even sniff at that reduced amount.
It is also important to realize that the Lakers will have a lot of empty roster spots to fill—it's not just about acquiring a singular star to complete the puzzle.
Part of the big picture includes current Lakers who inhabit the same real estate as Hill but at a better price. Julius Randle should be primed and ready to go next season after missing his rookie season with a broken leg. There is also "Big Boss" Ed Davis, who plans on opting out of his $1.1 million player option in hopes of a better long-term contract.
Ultimately, management will have to use its resources wisely. The goal is to build the best possible team for the future. Two ridiculously bad seasons in a row are ample proof of the need for a major talent infusion.
Jordan Hill is worth bringing back, but not before exploring other options.
Setting him free comes with a risk—other teams may be willing to pay his $9 million price tag.
But that's a gamble the Lakers must take—and take without hesitation.