PHOENIX -- It was a reflective Grant Hill who sat down with me at the U.S. Airways Center recently in the midst of momentous change for the team he chose to stay with two summers ago, the Phoenix Suns.
As a second-tier free agent in 2009 -- seemingly a lifetime removed from the hype that saw Hill and Tracy McGrady join the Orlando Magic as free agents nine years earlier -- Hill chose to stay with Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire rather than write a new chapter of his remarkable career in Boston or New York. As Hill knows all too well after having his high-flying career derailed by serious ankle injuries that caused him to miss hundreds of games, plenty can change in two minutes in the NBA, much less two years.
The Celtics were back in the Finals last June and appear hell bent on going back there again, and Stoudemire is now in New York, leading a basketball revival at Madison Square Garden. Hill and Nash have been left behind on a Suns team that is quite obviously at a crossroads after a major trade that sent Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark to Hill's former team, the Magic, for Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter. Hill, who at age 38 is having his most productive year since he left Orlando in 2007, said he has no regrets about the decision.
"First of all, it's flattering that former coaches of mine -- Mike D'Antoni, Doc Rivers, and obviously Alvin Gentry here in Phoenix -- were really kind of coming after me hard," Hill said in an interview for CBSSports.com's "In the Moment" series. "It could be worse. They could not want you, I guess.
"It was a fun process. I'm glad I signed back here in Phoenix .We had a great run last year, a great experience. I like the team here. I like the situation, the organization, and I'm happy with the move. Obviously those two other places would've been wonderful and adventurous -- Boston made it to the Finals last year against the Lakers -- but I like what we did last year and I like the challenge that's ahead of us for this year's team."
And quite a challenge it is. The Suns have lost six out of seven since the new players arrived in the trade, and they're in crisis mode as they face a revitalized Knicks team and Stoudemire Friday night at home. Sources familiar with the organization's plan continue to say that GM Lon Babby and assistant GM Lance Blanks do not envision trading Nash and want to give the new group a chance to turn it around before making a final determination on such a drastic teardown move. But if the struggles continue, everyone knows that owner Robert Sarver will not tolerate a playoff payroll on a lottery team.
But for Hill, the challenge of getting the new-look Suns to play better is nothing compared to the personal struggle he's endured. Ankle injuries, multiple surgeries, and a staph infection that nearly killed him -- Hill admitted those challenges nearly broke him. Watch the interview, and at one point you can see him gesture to the heavens as he apologizes for admitting that he almost gave up.
"It has been an amazing journey," Hill said. "I think I've endured a lot because I love the game. I love to play. That's why I almost died at one point after a staph infection. And there was a point -- forgive me -- but there've been some times where I was very low and questioned whether it was all worth it. But as you start to get healthy, as you start to show signs of improvement, then you start to have that goal and that purpose. And that goal is what gets you through those dark moments and makes you ultimately continue to fight."
After all these years and all the hurdles, Hill said, "I still feel like I'm fighting, still trying to prove myself, still trying to overcome. In a lot of ways it was the best thing that ever happened to me."
It's almost as though the Hill we see now -- cunningly picking his spots and doing the dirty work on defense and around the basket -- is a different person than the one who soared into the NBA out of Duke in 1994 and was touted as "The Next Jordan."
"Sometimes you've got to go through those really dark moments in order to really grow," Hill said. "... I wouldn't change it one bit."