By John Denton
ORLANDO _ Grant Hill, whose seven years in Orlando were marred by crippling injuries to his ankle and abdomen, informed the Magic today that he is leaving to sign a free-agent contract with the Phoenix Suns.
Hill confirmed Thursday morning that he was leaving and said he would discuss the matter more later today. Check back with FLORIDA TODAY.com today for updates.
Because of the injuries that robbed so much of the prime of his career, Hill played in just 200 of a possible 574 games in his seven years in Orlando. He missed 65.1 percent of the games with the Magic.
Hill, whose $92.88 million contract with the Magic expired on July 1, will sign a one-year deal for the veteran minimum of $1.2 million. The deal can't be officially signed until July 1, the first day contracts become official.
The soon-to-be 35-year-old guard/forward will be joining a Suns team looking get past San Antonio and Dallas in the Western Conference and play for a championship during two-time MVP Steve Nashís prime. Hill has never been on a team that has won a playoff series in his 13-year NBA career.
Hill will likely replace Raja Bell in the Sunsí starting lineup at shooting guard. He could shift to his natural position, small forward, if Phoenix trades Shawn Marion as rumored.
Hill briefly flirted with retirement after the Magic were swept out of the playoffs by the Detroit Pistons. But after working as an analyst for ABC at The NBA Finals, Hill decided he wanted to make one more push at chasing a championship. San Antonio, Miami, Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando pursued Hill this offseason.
Unlike in 2000, when Hill visited Orlando on the first day of the free-agent courting period and committed verbally to the Magic two days later, he stayed at his Orlando home this time and communicated with teams. He heard pitches from the Spurs, Mavericks and Heat over the course of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. It was his conversation with new Suns general manager Steve Kerr on Tuesday that led to him picking Phoenix.
Magic general manager Otis Smith said repeatedly that he wanted Hill back. And Hillís hopes of returning seemed to spike last week when he met with new coach Stan Van Gundy, who told Hill he felt he could still play a vital role on the Magic.
That might have changed Tuesday when the Magic got a verbal commitment from 6-foot-10 small forward Rashard Lewis, the most coveted free agent on the market.
Hill arrived in Orlando as a free agent in 2000 to much hype and hope, but a broken left ankle soon soured those feelings. He played just four games his first season, 14 in the second and 29 in the third _ all of them ending with surgeries.
He missed all of the 2003-04 season when following a radical surgery in which Hillís ankle and heel were broken purposely and realigned. But it was following that surgery that Hill contracted a nasty staph infection in his left leg. His fever spiked to 104.5 degrees and his body went into convulsions. Doctors eventually got his fever under control and had to replace veins in his lower left leg with ones from his upper arm.
He made a triumphant return in 2004-05, playing 67 games and making the all-star team while averaging 19.7 points a game.
But misfortune struck again when Hill tore muscles in his groin region and the subsequent sports hernia limited him to just 21 games as the Magic missed the playoffs yet again.
This past season, Hill made it all the way to the end of the season healthy for the first time since 1999. Despite being limited in back-to-back sets of games and rarely ever practicing, Hill averaged 14.4 points and led the Magic to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
John Denton is a FLORIDA TODAY sports reporter and the Orlando Magic beat writer