Tag:Earl Clark
Posted on: January 7, 2011 8:41 am
 

'In the Moment' with Grant Hill: No regrets

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."
Posted on: December 26, 2010 7:22 pm
 

Gentry: Griffin is 'best athlete in the league'

LOS ANGELES – The best game of the weekend at Staples Center wasn’t on Christmas Day, but the day after. And it didn’t involve Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, but rather a budding superstar whom one of the top coaches in the NBA called “the best athlete in the league” on Sunday. 

His name, of course, is Blake Griffin. And he does things like this

In front of a rare sellout crowd at Staples – for a Clippers game, that is – Griffin stole the holiday weekend show with his 18th consecutive double-double as L.A. beat the Suns 108-103. Griffin had 28 points and 12 rebounds, but that wasn’t the miracle. The miracle was that the Clippers figured out how to close out a tight game with Griffin sitting on the bench after fouling out with 2:52 left. 

After some nervous moments down the stretch, including a shot-clock violation in the face of the Suns’ improved defense after last week’s trade, the Suns cut the Clippers’ lead on Mickael Pietrus’ corner 3-pointer with 22.5 seconds left. But Pietrus, who came from Orlando with Marcin Gortat and Vince Carter in the trade that sent Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark to Orlando, still giveth and taketh away. His turnover, forced by Eric Gordon as the Suns were angling for a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, let the Clippers survive without their athletic and emotional leader. 

“He’s the best athlete in the league right now,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “As a big guy, if guys are going to throw lobs and stuff like that, there’s nobody that’s even remotely close right now. You have to make him into a basketball player. You have to make him make basketball plays, not athletic plays. In the first half we let him make all of these athletic plays. And with Grant [Hill] guarding him, we made him make basketball plays. I’m pretty sure if you look at the time Grant guarded him, I don’t think he got a basket.” 

The Clippers (9-22) are a .500 team over their last 10 games, and with Griffin’s talent and attitude, there is reason to believe this team is heading for better days. 

“They’ve got good young players and they’ve done a good job with them,” Gentry said. “I think you’ll continue to see them get better over time. They got off to a rough start, but it’s not so much that. Are you getting better? Are you building up? You can see that they’re getting better.” 

The driving force is Griffin, a freakish athlete who has an emotional edge to go with his talent. He refused to back down from Hill, a savvy, 38-year-old veteran who was a year away from his freshman season at Duke when Griffin was born. After absorbing a hard hip-check from Pietrus on his way to the basket in the fourth, Griffin stood over the bodies that had fallen in his wake like bowling pins and screamed. He ran to the defense of teammate Al-Farouq Aminu, who moments earlier had been pulled down by Pietrus on a transition layup attempt. 

Gentry is right about Griffin’s athleticism, and the rookie is something else the Clippers have lacked for too long: a superstar with attitude, and by that I mean a good attitude.
Posted on: December 18, 2010 2:57 pm
Edited on: December 18, 2010 5:32 pm
 

Magic getting Arenas, Turkoglu in blockbuster

In a blockbuster trade that changes the complexion of the Eastern Conference, the Magic are getting Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson from the Suns and Gilbert Arenas from the Wizards, league sources confirmed to CBSSports.com.

The Suns send Turkoglu back to Orlando, where he thrived, along with Richardson and Earl Clark for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus. Orlando also sends a 2011 first-round pick and cash to Phoenix and acquires Arenas from Washington for Rashard Lewis, the sources said.

It is a swing-for-the-fences for Orlando, which came under immense pressure to make a big trade while losing five of its last six games and taking an obvious back seat to Boston and Miami in the East. Turkoglu, who struggled in stints with Toronto and Phoenix, returns to Orlando -- where he was a key piece in Magic's run to the 2009 NBA Finals.

Arenas is the bigger name, but the key to the deal could be Richardson, a perimeter sniper who fits the Magic's style and gives them a clutch scorer and big-time shooter to further space the floor for Dwight Howard.

The Rockets tried to get into the mix for Gortat, whom they've coveted for several years, but wouldn't give up Kevin Martin, two people familiar with the situation said.

In addition to making Orlando a more potent offensive team -- and, once again, a matchup nightmare with Turkoglu back in the role that suits him best -- the second part of the deal gives a much needed fresh start to Arenas. The former All-Star gets an improbable chance to resurrect his career away from the place where his status as the face of the Wizards franchise crumbled amid persistent knee injuries and a 50-game suspension for bringing firearms to the Verizon Center locker room last season.

Aside from trying to reload in a way that justifies their $94 million payroll, the Magic also are taking bold steps to placate Howard and dissuade him from entering the 2012 free-agent class. Some members of the Magic organization, including Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy, have had serious reservations about bringing in Arenas since CBSSports.com first reported in October that a deal had been arranged for the mercurial superstar over the summer. That deal was built around Carter going to Washington.

Magic GM Otis Smith, who has a close relationship with Arenas from their days in Golden State, will consummate his months-long effort to extract Arenas from Washington. The Wizards, who have turned the franchise over to No. 1 pick John Wall, are all too willing to oblige -- especially given the $62 million Arenas is owed over the next three seasons.

"It was a challenging situation for Gilbert," Arenas' agent, Dan Fegan, told CBSSports.com. "Ted Leonsis gave him a clean slate and really worked to make this situation work. He did a very decent thing by brokering a trade to Orlando and giving Gilbert a second chance."

That is the price Orlando had to pay to make room for Turkoglu and Richardson, whose presence made Lewis -- whose production has significantly declined -- no longer necessary. While the Magic are taking on significant money with Arenas and Turkolgu, Richardson's $14.4 million contract expires after this season. And Turkoglu eases the burden because he accepted a reduction in guaranteed money in 2013-14, the final year of his contract, as part of the trade that sent him from Toronto to Phoenix.

The dual swaps presumably give Orlando a starting lineup of Howard at center, Brandon Bass at power forward, Turkoglu at small forward, Richardson at shooting guard and -- here's the big question -- either Arenas or Jameer Nelson at point guard. Van Gundy also has the flexibility to play Turkoglu at the four in smaller lineups that might feature Richardson at the three with Nelson and Arenas in the backcourt. While Smith could've waited until the 11th hour on the Feb. 24 trade deadline to complete the Lewis-for-Arenas portion, the upside is that Van Gundy gets more time to figure out how to fit all of these pieces together. With Boston having the most continuity among its stars in the East, and with Miami beginning to make its Big Three work on an 11-game winning streak, time is a valuable commodity to the Magic as they try to retool on the fly.

From the Phoenix perspective, the Suns get a much-needed big man in Gortat, a poor man's version of Richardson in Pietrus, and the essentially expiring contract of Carter, who has only $4 million guaranteed next season. But besides Gortat, the primary haul for Phoenix is a first-round pick and $3 million for cash-strapped owner Robert Sarver -- raising serious questions about whether Steve Nash will want to stay in Phoenix to rebuild.



Posted on: May 30, 2010 2:36 am
 

Stoudemire's last game as a Sun?


PHOENIX – If this was Amar’e Stoudemire’s last game as a member of the Suns, it will be a tough one for both sides to carry with them into an offseason of uncertainty.

“I’m still not sure what the future holds right now,” Stoudemire said after scoring 27 points as the Suns were eliminated 111-103 by the Lakers in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. “I’m just going to take a couple of days, enjoy the family and enjoy the rest and start figuring out what the next move is.”

It was too soon, the pain from the loss too raw, for Suns president Steve Kerr to even contemplate Stoudemire’s future.

“We’ll deal with that later,” said Kerr, who once the sting dissipates will be able to walk away from this season feeling positive about the organization’s future.

“I’m just really proud of all our guys, every single one of them – coaches, players,” Kerr said. “It was a fantastic season. It ended a little too soon, but that’s the way it goes.”

Asked what will stick with him as he evaluates the season, Kerr said, “The togetherness, the unity, the complete and total unselfishness. It’s just a great mix of youth and veterans and it was a lot of fun watching them try to work together. They have fun every day and they couldn’t wait to get to work.”

The future is bright for the young core of Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Robin Lopez, Channing Frye, Louis Amundson and even first-round pick Earl Clark, who didn’t play in the series. But everything the Suns do between now and the start of next season will be predicated on Stoudemire’s imminent leap into the unrestricted free-agent market. Stoudemire has said he will opt out of his contract, and reiterated Saturday night that there’s only a 50-50 chance that he stays in Phoenix.

“Absolutely still there,” he said. “But I’m pretty sure there will be a conversation between myself and the organization and my family and we’ll figure out what the best scenario is and make a smart decision.”

Dialogue between the Suns and Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, remains open. But Kerr wasn’t ready to focus on the most important aspect of the Suns’ offseason – not this soon.

“A year ago, nobody knew how good Dragic would be, how good Lopez would be,” Kerr said. “Jared Dudley and those guys stepping up and delivering for us really has solidified our future – which is important because two years ago, we were looking old and we were looking like we could be in some trouble. So it’s been gratifying to watch those guys grow.”

Now comes the hard part: Keeping them together.
 
 
 
 
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