GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Tim Hardaway Jr. has never been a full-time starter in the NBA, but the Knicks view him as one and paid him as one. That’s how Knicks president Steve Mills justified giving Hardaway a four-year, $71-million contract.
Mills said he needed to be “aggressive” to ensure that the Hawks didn’t match the contract for the restricted free agent. Reportedly, they thought he would get an offer of about $45 million for four years. The Knicks blew that number out of the water.
“We watched him, in our opinion, grow over his time in the player development program that they had in Atlanta,” Mills said, speaking Monday for the first time since signing Hardaway. “So we decided he was a target.
“We felt like there are not that many opportunities in free agency that you have the opportunity to go after a 25-year-old. We made the decision that if you want to pry a restricted free agent away from the incumbent team, you have to be aggressive. So we made a decision to be aggressive.”
Mills said he reached out to Hardaway just past midnight on July 1. Hardaway, however, said he didn’t hear from the Knicks until a few days into free agency.
The Knicks have made Hardaway, whom they drafted in 2013 and traded two years later, a part of their young core. He has started 62 of 281 games in his four-year career and has averaged 11.1 points.
“As we look at the numbers, we believe Tim is a starting two-guard in this league,” Mills said. “Our trajectory for him is to be a starting two- guard, the capability of being a starting two-guard for the rest of his career. And those guys average 16, 16.5 million dollars today. So that’s how we came to the decision.”
New Knicks general manager Scott Perry said he “applauded that move from afar.” However, giving Hardaway that contract and using the $4.3-million room exception on Ron Baker, who will get a two-year, $8.9-million deal, has left the Knicks with little money to use on a point guard.
They have about $1.4 million that likely will go to second-round pick Damyean Dotson, so the Knicks probably will need to get a point guard through a trade.
Perry said he would like to add a veteran point guard to help mentor rookie Frank Ntilikina. “I’m excited about young Frank but also I think we’ll need some veteran guidance,” he said. “We’ll find out who that will be in the days and weeks to come, but you definitely want to bolster that position.”
More contact with KP
Mills said he and Kristaps Porzingis have spoken a few times this summer. For weeks after Porzingis skipped his exit meeting, no one from the organization spoke with him, only with his brother. But the Knicks have had more contact with Porzingis since Phil Jackson was let go.
Jackson said he was fielding trade offers for Porzingis around the draft. Since Jackson left, the Knicks have said they will build around Porzingis.
“Kristaps and I have a hectic texting relationship,” Mills said. “I continue to text Kristaps over the summer and he and I have spoken two or three times over the summer.”
Mills on Phil
After working under Jackson for three years, Mills said he learned a lot and considers him a friend. “When you have an opportunity to work with somebody who won 11 championships like Phil Jackson, you can’t help but learn from him,” Mills said.
“So he certainly has taught me a lot about basketball and the culture of basketball. He taught me a lot about how you interact with players as a coach . . . I take the things I’ve learned and the way he’s brought in my basketball thinking and just apply that to how we move forward.”