GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Tim Hardaway Jr. has had a mixed season. So it's not surprising that Knicks coach Derek Fisher gave a mixed answer when asked Friday about the second-year guard's future with the team.
"Well, I mean, he's under contract for next year, so . . . ," Fisher said after practice as the Knicks prepared to face the Indiana Pacers in the second half of a home-and-home at the Garden on Saturday night.
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Hardaway is one of four Knicks with fully guaranteed contracts for next season. The others are Carmelo Anthony, Jose Calderon and Cleanthony Early. Only Anthony is certain of being on the roster in 2015-16.
Hardaway was a first-team all-rookie selection last season after averaging 10.2 points in 23.1 minutes and shooting 42.8 percent.
His points per game are up to 11.4 and he has started 25 games after starting only one last season. But Hardaway has regressed, with a .388 shooting percentage.
Hardaway has not seized the opportunity after J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert were traded to Cleveland and frequently has found himself in Fisher's doghouse. Which could be one reason Fisher repeated "he's under contract for next season" when pressed about Hardaway's future.
That's not to say Fisher didn't have some nice things to say about Hardaway, too.
"Tim has a great deal of potential as a young guard," he said. "He's showing more skill in handling the basketball and playing defense."
Fisher declined to compare Hardaway's rookie season to his sophomore campaign "because I wasn't here."
But he did make it clear what he thinks Hardaway needs to work on to be part of what the Knicks hope will be an improved team next season.
"I think he's kind of tried his best to adjust and I think he's taken the defensive end more seriously, and that's what I think this is all about for Tim," Fisher said.
"Every guy on every team thinks he can score . . . But how many guys are willing to play defense every night and be the type of guy that's going to do some of the dirty work?
"I think Tim has turned the corner in that area and then, as he continues to kind of evolve inside of what we're doing, I think his shooting and his percentages, etc., I think that will come back. I think he's putting more effort on defense, and that's what we need."
Hardaway was not available for comment after Fisher spoke.