The Knicks drafted Tim Hardaway Jr. in 2013, sent him to Atlanta two years later, and brought him back over the summer on a four-year, $71 million deal to be a cornerstone player.
In this Q&A with Newsday’s Al Iannazzone, the fifth-year swingman reflects on Atlanta, being back with the Knicks, his new role, contract and what he learned from Carmelo Anthony:
Newsday: Did getting traded to Atlanta turn out to be a good thing for you?
Hardaway: “I wanted to stay. I wanted to improve in the offseason. I wanted to come back a better, stronger, faster player for the Knicks that next season. Just didn’t happen. It was a blessing just being able to have a team out there that wanted me and knew they could develop me into a player they wanted me to become and I wanted to become. The style of play matched what I wanted to do. It helped me, made me a mature, better person, on and off the floor, and made me realize this doesn’t come for everybody. You got to work hard to get to this point. Thankfully it happened.”
ND: What impact did getting sent to the D-League and not playing much for the Hawks that first season have on you?
Hardaway: “It was definitely a wake-up call. It was them getting my mindset, ‘Look, you’re coming from a different offense, a different defensive background with the Knicks. This is what we want you to do.’ I just wasn’t picking it up as quickly as usual . . . One thing (Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer) did tell me, ‘In order to be a prolific basketball player you got to be able to play both ends of the floor at a high level. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to get on the floor.’ That’s what helped me. I took that to heart. I wanted to make it a challenge. When he sent me down to the D-League it was a wake-up call.”
ND: How did you handle that?
Hardaway: “It (had) an effect on my mind. ‘What? Going down to the D-League? I’m averaging double-figures in the NBA the previous two years. I’m trying to come back and make a better name for myself.’ Him putting me down there just made me realize you got to work hard, man. You can’t come here expecting to play. I thought I was going to come in and play. I realized I had veterans in front of me that I had to outwork and compete each and every day. Once I got better he trusted me in that process and it got me to where I am right now.”
ND: Were you surprised the Knicks wanted you back?
Hardaway: “I was surprised but at the same time I was also ecstatic because I had unfinished business, I felt like. I just left with a bad taste. I got traded and left with a bad taste in my mouth. I just wanted to correct that and leave on my own terms.”
ND: How tired are you of hearing about your contract?
Hardaway: “Everybody gets upset (about it) but it’s not my fault. All I can do is back it up. I’m pretty sure this preseason I’ve been doing so. Whether it was a small contract or a big contract, I’m happy I’m able to play with this team, able to play with the New York Knicks and I’m happy to be back home.”
ND: How do you prepare for becoming one of the focal points of the team?
Hardaway: “It’s a big difference. It helps out that in Atlanta I had a lot of games that were big games and I came through in the clutch. My teammates and my coaching staff down there had trust and faith in me to make those plays and make great decisions with the ball in my hands. Just being confident with that I think it showed that I was able to be put in those situations to succeed. The Knicks have faith in me and they have trust in me and I was happy and excited to be a part of it.”
ND: Is your approach any different because of your new role?
Hardaway: “It’s different but my mentality is the same: Go out here, play with a chip on my shoulder. I know everybody is going to come after me each and every game from here on out. It’s exciting and it’s fun. It’s a challenge and you got to be willing to take that challenge.”
ND: Are you ready for all the responsibility, and heat if things don’t go well?
Hardaway: “My locker was next to Melo every single day my first two years here. Just hearing the questions that were given to him, I understand what’s at stake. I’m ready. I know Kristaps (Porzingis) and myself are ready for those questions and those concerns and what we need to do as a team to get better. As a team, I know we’re going to go out there and compete. That’s all we ask.”
ND: Kristaps said the same thing about Carmelo. You guys learned a lot from him, didn’t you?
Hardaway: “Yeah. Just watching him, he was great with it. Even though he left, he left some things back in New York that we can learn and get better at as a team and as individuals. We’re happy about that.”