- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Truth In Advertising, Exhibit A: That soft-drink spot in which we're so cleverly convinced Grant Hill is not who you want to see leaning over an operating table ... or disarming a bomb ... or landing a plane.
Not if we can't even trust Hill with his own life.
And we most certainly can't, judging from his recent decision-making. One full week later, it is still difficult to understand how Hill could commit to the Orlando Magic before knowing for sure that Tim Duncan would be joining him. The San Antonio Spurs, if you haven't heard, won the two-horse Duncan Derby, convincing their franchise to stay in South Texas.
Bound for Central Florida, and bound to be miserable. Let's just say that Mr. Corporate America could use an endorsement deal with Hertz -- and quick. Because if anyone in the NBA needs one of those Never-Lost gizmos, it's Hill.
Only Hill could find the Duncan-less Magic a more appealing option than Detroit, where, traditional aesthetics aside, the Pistons still have lots to offer. They are open to a one-year contract, which is what Hill originally wanted. They are now run by Hill's buddy Joe Dumars, which is what Hill also wanted. Most importantly, they are a team that Jalen Rose and Chris Webber see as a possible destination, which is what anyone in the league would want.
Yet Hill chose Orlando, without waiting for Duncan's decision, and now he and his new city are praying desperately for a miracle. And, no, the WNBA doesn't count. Even scoring a binding commitment from the ever-fickle Tracy McGrady won't be enough to make this work, because a Hill-McGrady partnership isn't much of an upgrade on a Hill-Jerry Stackhouse pairing. Not if Hill is hoping to silence his critics someday and win a championship.
Hill, remember, needs lots of help, since we all know what happens when he tries to carry a team: Not much. The Pistons, in Hill's six seasons, made the playoffs four times. They advanced past the first round zero times. They lost playoff matchups with Orlando, Atlanta (twice) and Miami, and only once did the winner of those encounters make it past the second round.
It would have been way too much to expect for Hill to carry the Pistons to a title single-handedly. Getting to Round 2 at least once, by contrast, is a hardly unreasonable request to put to one of the league's (alleged) five best players.
Apparently, Hill has to have a Duncan at his side to really achieve something in this game. Webber would probably work, too. But Hill won't have either one as a teammate now, unless he backs out of his verbal commitment to the Magic to sign with San Antonio or stay in Detroit. Or unless you recognize the fact that Hill and Duncan still employ the same agent, Lon Babby, which makes Hill's foul-up even more of a head-scratcher.
Common sense says Hill should have had inside information, that he had to know Duncan's leanings. For Hill's sake, you have to hope it comes out later that it was indeed Duncan who made the curious call at the last second, spurning Orlando and scrapping The Plan after Hill committed first to take the heat off.
Otherwise, Hill walked away from a situation that wasn't nearly as bad as it looked. Detroit was only marginally over the cap with Hill and only has to put up with Christian Laettner for one more season. And while it will be difficult to land Indiana's Rose or Sacramento's Webber, at least there's a chance. Rose likes the idea of playing there and ditto Webber, the Duncan of next summer's free-agent pool. Without Hill, the Pistons drop more than $8 million under the cap and still might have a shot at those Michigan men, because of Rose and Webber's shared interest in the idea.
Hill should have waited out Duncan, then taken the Pistons' one-year, $9 million pitch. Next summer, Hill would have had the chance to bolt for San Antonio, Miami or Dallas if Detroit failed to acquire one or both of the Fab Fivers.
Instead, the ex-Pistons pitchman merely confirmed the validity of that soda-pop advert. No, you definitely don't rely on Grant Hill to tell you what to drink, because he hasn't got it right yet.
Wandering the West
Hoop junkies rejoice: Summer-league play has begun in Atlanta and Los Angeles -- and so have the summer-league rumors. There are persistent whispers about a serious movement to bring summer-play to Las Vegas (no argument here). It almost happened this summer, apparently, if not for NBA commissioner David Stern's concerns about games being staged in a hotel casino's arena. The vaunted LA Summer Pro League, actually contested at Long Beach State, might have some competition next July if the Vegas folks can find a suitable college or high school venue.
Summer-league rosters, as with every level of basketball, stock less and less talent every year. So we were naturally excited Wednesday when Long Beach spies reported that Jason Williams' old alley-oop partner, Randy Moss, was playing for a team of free-agent wannabes. Scouting report on Minnesota's incomparable pass-catcher: Dirk Nowitzki, Baron Davis and the legitimate NBA names on hand have nothing to worry about.
When it finally reached Decision Day, San Antonio's 12 months of Tim's Gone fretting got wrapped up in a press conference that lasted less than seven minutes. "This has been a long time coming," Duncan started. "Well, actually not that long if you really think about it." It's believed that Duncan will sign a three-year contract worth roughly $32 million, with an option for a fourth season. That corresponds with about as long as David Robinson plans to play, and ranks as probably the biggest reason Duncan decided to stay. Another blow from Grant Hill's image: Duncan going with the older man.
Of course, since Robinson is soon to be 35, The Admiral and The Anchor will need help. Why not Eddie Jones? In addition to the pursuit of the L.A. Clippers' Derek Anderson, the Spurs are trying to convince Charlotte's Jones to take the $2.25 million cap exception they offered Hill. Sounds like a long shot, sure, but if Robinson is willing to take a substantial pay cut next summer when he's a free agent, the Spurs will have some cap room to give Jones a nice hike. How good would Jones look in black and silver?
Joe Dumars, incidentally, is still waiting for his face-to-face meeting with Hill. All he has received so far is Hill's I'm-leaving phone call and the $60,000 full-page Thank You that Hill took out Thursday in Detroit's two major newspapers.
Toronto is obviously going to lose McGrady without compensation, so it continues to pursue Seattle's Rashard Lewis and Milwaukee's Tim Thomas. Houston's Cuttino Mobley is the Toronto target you don't hear much about.
Miami's Dan Majerle isn't a free agent, but he was one of the league's most coveted players in draft-day trade talk. Why? Cap reasons, naturally. Majerle is scheduled to earn $4 million next season, but only $400,000 was guaranteed if Majerle was waived by June 30. Releasing him by that date could have dropped $3.6 million off someone's salary cap.
Marc Stein, who covers the NBA for The Dallas Morning News, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.