Jordan Hill was the eighth-overall pick of the 2009 NBA draft, sandwiched between future All-Stars Steph Curry and DeMar DeRozan respectively. Standing 6'10", weighing a solid 235 lbs, the former Arizona center seemed an ideal fit for Mike D'Antoni's uptempo offense as a rebound-obsessed big man capable of running the floor -- an Amar'e Stoudemire clone of sorts.
Unfortunately, that sentiment didn't resonate with Knicks fans, who collectively booed the selection upon announcement, to no shock of Donnie Walsh, who oversaw the team's rebuilding phase. "I've been through it before in Indiana. They booed Chuck Person, Reggie Miller," he dismissed in 2009.
Mike D'Antoni, at least on the surface, shared Walsh's optimism, lauding Hill as the second-best player in that year's draft, behind only Blake Griffin. "I don't want to get ahead of myself," D'Antoni said. "But I think he can be really good. We got maybe the best big man in the draft."
Lakers season preview
Lakers season preview
Then, Hill's stint with the Knicks lasted all of 24 games, during which he made no starts and never overtook David Lee, Jared Jeffries, Darko Milicic, Eddy Curry or Earl Barron in the frontcourt rotation. That's a tough pill to swallow for the former All Pac-10 First Teamer, who registered 18.3 points and 11.0 rebounds only one year prior, starting 34 games his junior year and leaving with the fifth-best field goal percentage in school history with a 57.8 percent field-goal percentage.
"Coach D'Antoni, he relies on his veterans more than his rookies," Hill explained to the New York Post in 2010 after being traded to the Rockets. "Fans there [in New York] know what I can do. I just never got the opportunity to show it."
Fast forward through Hill's Houston tenure, where he earned his first responsibilities as a rotation player, and he enters his third full season as a Laker with a fresh contract, making a $9 million salary over the next few years. It's the culmination of what amounted to Hill's semi-breakout season, averaging 9.7 points and 7.4 boards 72 games (32 starts).
Hill is still that same energetic, rebound-obsessed big man capable of running the floor. Last season, he even proved capable of producing in D'Antoni's offense, manning the paint alongside Pau Gasol following Dwight Howard's departure.
Namely, Hill posted 16.7 points and 12.8 rebounds per-36 minutes, and his new deal will grant him extended minutes as a full-time starter for the first time in his six-year career. In the 11 games he played at least 30 minutes, Hill averaged 17 points on 56.7 shooting and 11.5 rebounds. While the point total will certainly decrease with the team's roster upgrades, the rebounding will be a welcomed sight, and Hill's low-maintenance offensive repertoire won't mandate anything close to 17 points over 82 games anyway.
What the Lakers need from Hill is what he provides whether he's playing 2 minutes or 35: Relentless energy on both ends of the floor. He more than held his own against Andrew Bogut, DeMarcus Cousins, and Andre Drummond last season, and the Lakers will need more of that as Julius Randle adjusts, especially given Gasol's migration to the Windy City.
Entering the season as the undisputed center should do wonders for Hill's confidence, especially given Scott's success with Tyson Chandler in New Orleans, where everything began to click for the former lottery pick, just as it gradually has for Hill in Los Angeles.
The Lakers won't be world beaters, but they won't have to be -- at least for the season to be a relative success. The '14-15 campaign, as Mitch Kupchak and Kobe Bryant declare, is an opportunity to shock people and contend for a championship, to which no ambitious Lakers fan would oppose.
But as it unravels, it will serve different purposes for different players. For Hill, it's validation of a five-year climb, one equipped with rejection, change of scenery, reward, and expanded opportunity. It's years of hard work coming full circle, though the hustle is far from finished.
This season, Hill doesn't have to become the All-Star his fellow 2009 lottery mates have blossomed into. Players don't draft themselves, and sometimes player-team marriages just aren't meant to be. It's the risk-reward of team building. What matters now, though, is Hill being trusted for who he is, poised for a breakout year for a Lakers team hoping to develop their frontcourt of the future.
Years after D'Antoni's 2009 comments, Hill has finally earned the platform to become "very good," one energetic, rebound-obsessed start at a time.