When the SB Nation NBA braintrust settled on doing a themed post about the most disappointing players in each team's history, I was less than thrilled with the assignment. For the Orlando Magic, there's only one answer: Grant Hill. And yet terming him a disappointment isn't entirely fair, for myriad reasons.
With a flurry of roster moves, Magic GM John Gabriel managed to create enough salary-cap space in the summer of 2000 to sign two max-level free agents. He landed Hill and Tracy McGrady, and had Tim Duncan not lost a game of one-on-one against San Antonio Spurs teammate David Robinson, might have nabbed him instead of one of the wing stars.
But the Hill-and-McGrady haul still generated excitement. Hill had averaged 21.6 points per game in his six seasons with the Detroit Pistons, shared Rookie of the Year honors with Jason Kidd, played in five All-Star Games, and earned five All-NBA first- or second-team selections prior to signing with the Magic. McGrady, just 20, was less decorated, with a modest scoring average of 11.1 points with the Toronto Raptors.
Fans expected the duo to return Orlando, which hadn't won a playoff series in four seasons, to championship contention. For a variety of reasons, it did not.
Injuries limited Hill to 200 regular-season games in his seven seasons with Orlando, including only 47 appearances in his first four seasons; he missed the entire 2003/04 campaign, during which the Magic went a league-worst 21-61 despite McGrady's 25.7 points, 6.2 boards, and 5.7 assists. McGrady, sick of losing and of having to carry the load by himself, sought a trade, and the Magic accommodated him by shipping him to the Houston Rockets for a package featuring Steve Francis.
All told, McGrady and Hill played in just 43 games together, during which the Magic posted a 20-23 record. Of note here: Eddy Rivera and Neil Paine ran a simulation to learn how the team might have fared had Hill been healthy during McGrady's Magic tenure.
The Hill-less Magic squad which lost 61 games lucked out in the NBA Draft Lottery, giving the team the right to select Dwight Howard with the first overall selection. Howard would blossom into the game's best center, but he did his best work after Hill departed as a free agent in 2007. The acquisition of Francis and the drafting of Howard made Hill an afterthought in Orlando.
When Hill did suit up for the Magic, he was often effective: he averaged 16.4 points in just 32.2 minutes, with five rebounds and 3.1 assists, on 50 percent shooting from the field. But the team didn't sign him to be merely solid: it signed him to form a dynamic wing tandem alongside McGrady, the budding star. He didn't fulfill that promise, through no real fault of his own.
When I asked Orlando Pinstriped Post's Facebook fans for their input on the team's most disappointing player, they mentioned Hill's name quite often. Howard's, too, for not leading the team to a championship. Draft busts Jeryl Sasser, Reece Gaines, and Fran Vázquez also earned some support for this dubious honor. Yet expectations for that lot were reasonably low; nobody ought to have expected Jeryl freaking Sasser to bring Orlando back to NBA relevance. By contrast, folks ought to have--and did--expect Hill to do as much.
He did not.