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Hill chooses familiar home for 17th NBA season

By Bob Baum

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 16 2011 5:01 p.m. MST

Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash (13) playfully keeps the ball away from teammate Grant Hill (33) during the Suns' NBA basketball media day on Friday, Dec. 16, 2011, in Phoenix.

Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

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PHOENIX — Grant Hill said he could have chosen a bigger paycheck. He certainly could have gone to a team with a better shot at winning a championship.

In the end, though, for more than a few reasons, one of the most admired players in the game chose to stay in Phoenix for his 17th NBA season.

That he was so coveted at age 39 is a testament to a player who went from a budding superstar to a player whose career seemed destined for a sad, premature end.

"It was humbling, it was very flattering," Hill said at the Suns' media day on Friday.

Hill's well-documented injury problems began when, despite severe pain, he played on a sore ankle in the 2000 postseason, the last of six standout seasons with the Detroit Pistons. It wound up being a broken ankle, and he played in only 47 games the next four years with Orlando.

In 2003, doctors re-fractured the ankle to reset it, and he contracted a potentially fatal infection. He believes doctors mistreated his injury for years.

Yet he went on to become a steady hand with the Suns, playing alongside good friend Steve Nash, another player who seems to defy age.

Hill has missed four games — combined — in the last three seasons. Last year, appearing in 80 games, he averaged 13.2 points per game, his highest total since 2006-07, when he averaged 14.4 points in 65 games in his final season in Orlando.

He said "there wasn't one thing" that led to his choice to stay with Phoenix.

"There were a lot of things," Hill said. "Certainly the training staff was one of those reasons. There's a trust and there's a mutual respect. I've enjoyed working with those guys. This year in particular is going to be tough, for all teams, to have the kind of schedule and the games we're going to have. The teams that take care of themselves, I think, will have an advantage, and I think that will be one of our advantages this season."

Hill said it "definitely helped" to be dealing with Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby, who had been his agent throughout his career until taking the Phoenix job prior to last season.

Babby said there was considerable interest throughout the league in acquiring Hill after he became a free agent following last season.

"Every time I've gone through this process with him he's had a lot of interest, and he still had a lot of interest," Babby said. "This is the first time it worked to my disadvantage. We really had to work hard to bring him back. He's a thoughtful, careful, deliberative guy and he needed to hear the right things from us. What makes me proud is, at the end of the day, he chose to stay."

Hill signed a 1-year, $6.5 million contract.

"Grant is a special person," Nash said. "He has intelligence and a toughness that very few people have. For him to go through all the issues that he's had with his health and for him to be now, at 39, playing practically the whole season and being such an important part of our team is a testament to his will."

Early in his career, Hill was a seven-time All-Star. He is the only player in league history to win the sportsmanship award — the Joe Dumars Trophy — twice. With the Suns, he won the Dan Majerle Hustle Award in 2008 and again last year. Hill is the first active player chosen for the board of governors of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I felt like he did the right thing by looking around and seeing what was out there," coach Alvin Gentry said, "but at the end of the day, everybody that came and offered him something, he felt like this was the best place for him. I think that speaks volumes about what we have going here, that a guy that had options that were open — where he could have gone to any team and probably a team that is in a much better position right now to win a championship — but he chose to come back here."

Gentry said Hill's many intangible assets, on and off the court, helped make him so coveted by other teams.

At his lowest point, the son of four-time Pro Bowl running back Calvin Hill said, "there were moments when I didn't think I'd play again."

"To be still out here playing, and to be desired," he said, "is a good feeling."

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