- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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If it wasn't for a 2 a.m. phone call from Mike Brown to Jordan Hill late in the season after the Lakers had their doors blown off by San Antonio, Hill might never have been given the opportunity to show his stuff for the purple and gold.
"I was definitely surprised," Hill said after his exit interview this week, recalling the moment that changed his fate with the franchise. "We talked a little bit and he said we need a little more scoring in the second half. More rebounding. More energy. So, I just stayed ready and the next game against Oklahoma, I just went out there and did what I had to do and kept going with it."
Hill rewarded Brown's trust with 14 points and 15 rebounds in the Lakers' 114-106 double overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder and suddenly, after sitting on the bench nursing a sore right knee for the first month of his Lakers' career, Hill was thrust into the role of the team's first big man off the bench for the playoffs.
Hill followed up his surprise performance against the Thunder with two more double-doubles in the first round of the playoffs against Denver -- 10 points and 10 points in Game 1 and 12 points and 11 rebounds in Game 4. The Lakers won both games. Nuggets coach George Karl dubbed Hill a "wild card" and really, when you think about just how close the L.A.-Denver series ended up being, Hill's contributions just might have pushed the Lakers over the top over the course of seven games.
Hill ended up averaging better numbers in 12 postseason games with the Lakers (4.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) than he did in seven regular season games. It was a nice little run for Hill, considering he was playing in the first playoffs of his three-year career.
The Lakers gave up a lot to get Hill, parting with franchise-favorite Derek Fisher as well as a future first-round pick at the trade deadline to acquire the 6-10 big man from Houston. However, Hill played in just five out of a possible 21 games for a grand total of 18 minutes in his first five weeks with the Lakers and appeared like a lost cause as he struggled with his health and picking up the Lakers' playbook.
Hill also faced adversity off the court in his short stint with the team as he was charged with felony assault in late April for an incident alleged to have taken place while he was still playing for the Rockets.
OUTLOOK FOR 2012-13
After being a lottery pick by the New York Knicks in the 2009 NBA Draft, Hill already finds himself a free agent this offseason because the Rockets chose not to pick up the option for the fourth year on his rookie deal before trading him to L.A. Hill certainly proved he can help a team during his time with the Lakers, but it's still pretty tricky determining his market value. Hill will be pursuing a multi-year deal, but I can't imagine the Lakers being too keen on committing to Hill for various reasons, including the injury history with his right knee, his impending court case this summer, as well as the duplication Hill would create on the roster because L.A. already has Josh McRoberts under contract for a guaranteed $3.1 million next season to serve as the team's primary backup big man.
Hill, in a perfect world, would like to return.
"It’s definitely one of, if not the best organization in the league. I had a great time here with the short time I was here. The staff, the players, everybody. I enjoyed it," Hill said of his time with the Lakers. "I'm definitely looking forward to, if possible, more to come ... It definitely would be great (to stay). I hate moving."
Yet after playing for three teams in the Knicks, Rockets and Lakers in his three years in the league, he knows that he could very well be putting on a different uniform next year.
"After this year and don’t know what’s going to happen," Hill said. "I just got to keep working, keep doing what I’ve been doing in the summer, the summer time and go from there. See where I’m going to land."
Hill deserves credit for taking full advantage of his opportunity when it was presented to him and leap frogging McRoberts and Troy Murphy in the rotation. However, his underwhelming second-round series against the Thunder can't be ignored when considering his final grade.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.