(AP) — The Phoenix Suns re-signed one of their most popular players, added two solid backup guards and unloaded a large portion of a very big contract.
Not a bad start to the first day of post-lockout free agency.
Phoenix signed swingman Grant Hill to a one-year, $6.5 million contract on Friday and followed that by signing one-year deals with Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown. The Suns also waived forward Vince Carter, meaning the team will only have to fork over $4 million of the $18 million he was due for the 2011-12 season.
Re-signing Hill was Phoenix's top priority in the offseason, in part because he's still productive and one of the NBA's best defensive players at 39, but also for his leadership abilities and close friendship with point guard Steve Nash, who's in the last year of his contract.
"He's just a real, real important part to our team, not just what he does on the court, which has been great since he's got here, but the leadership in the locker room and the professionalism he's shown," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "There's just so many things about him that were just so important for us to have him back on our team."
The NBA's second-oldest player, Hill has proven to still be an above-average player after past injury woes, averaging 15.8 points last season while routinely guarding the opposing team's best player.
Hill also has been valued for his leadership abilities and calm demeanor, not to mention being considered a key to keeping Nash from leaving.
Despite being one of the top targets in the free agent market, Hill decided to return to the desert for a fifth season.
"I think ultimately, (it) was just liking it here," Hill said. "From Robert (Sarver) in ownership, to management, to the coaches, the medical staff. I like my teammates, I like the fans; there were some very attractive situations out there, but I liked it here."
Hill was one of the NBA's best players after being drafted out of Duke with the third overall pick by Detroit in 1994. But he was eventually hampered by a serious ankle injury that limited him to 47 games from 2000-2003.
The swingman revived his career in Orlando and has played four steady seasons for the Suns, averaging 12.3 points. He is still one of the league's best defensive players, often matched up against players like LeBron James, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant, and has been durable in his later years, playing less than 80 games just once while in Phoenix.
Hill made just over $10 million during his first four years with the Suns, a bargain for a productive starter, and the team made signing him a priority once the lockout was settled — enhanced by Nash's pleas to not let him go somewhere else.
"Sure you were worried — he had a lot of options, a lot of good options," Gentry said. "The fact that he chose to stay here is great for us and I think it speaks volumes for what he thinks about our franchise and how he felt like it would be beneficial to him."
Phoenix also solidified its rotation behind Nash by adding Telfair and Brown.
Telfair has played for five teams over seven NBA seasons, most recently a second stint with Minnesota in 2010-11. The 26-year-old has never averaged more than 9.8 points in a season, but is expected to give the Suns a solid backup to Nash.
"I had a couple of situations and this was the best one," said Telfair, cousin of former Suns point guard Stephon Marbury. "I had a team that wanted me, which was the situation I wanted to be in, so I'm here. I've got all my focus here and going to make the best of it."
Brown bounced around his first three seasons before settling in as Kobe Bryant's backup with the Los Angeles Lakers. The 26-year-old gave the deep Lakers quality minutes over the past two seasons, setting career highs for points in each before declining a $2.4 million option to stay with the Lakers.
"I just go out and play basketball and the style (in Phoenix) fits how I do it," Brown said. "I like to get up and down, I like to run, shoot, a lot of scoring, screen-and-rolls, early shots on the break. And I think I bring a little bit different look with some defense with all those championship situations."
Carter had a short-lived run in the desert, playing 51 games — 41 starts — after joining the Suns with Mickeal Pietrus and Marcin Gortat in a six-player deal last December that sent Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu to Orlando.
Once one of the NBA's most dynamic players, the 34-year-old Carter averaged 13.5 points while shooting 42 percent with Phoenix.