Tim Hardaway Jr. admitted his first reaction when the Knicks showed interest in him was ‘Wow!” But after the shock and surprise of that initial phone call, he said he wouldn’t want to play with anyone else.
Of course, the Knicks gave Hardaway 71 million reasons to want to return to the team that drafted him in 2013 and then traded him two years later. But with Phil Jackson no longer the Knicks president, Hardaway said it dawned on him that he could return someday. He just didn’t think it would be now.
“You play here for two years and then you’re gone,” Hardaway said Monday afternoon at a Knicks’ basketball camp. “Then two years later you get a phone call and it’s like, ‘Wow!’ I wouldn’t expect it coming from them. I would expect from a different team or a different franchise. When I got the call I was very, very happy and overwhelmed.”
Hardaway, whom Jackson traded two years ago, became a Knick after the Hawks decided over the weekend not to match the four-year, $71-million offer sheet he was given. “Wow!” was a popular reaction from Knicks fans and followers of the NBA after news broke of that contract for the 6-6 shooting guard who has spent most of his four-year career coming off the bench.
But the Knicks are moving on with a youth movement, building around Kristaps Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, Hardaway and first-round pick Frank Ntilikina.
With all of the emphasis on growing and developing their young players, Carmelo Anthony could be on his way out. Hardaway hopes he gets to play with Anthony again, although it appears unlikely.
“Melo’s got to do what’s best for his family and for him,” Hardaway said. “Yes, we definitely want him back — no question. Just having that veteran leader out there on the floor, a go-to guy who can get you a bucket any given moment of the game, it’s great. It’s great to have that. You want to have that. It’ll be tough for him to leave.”
Hardaway said if Anthony is not here — the Rockets reportedly have turned their attention to acquiring the perennial All-Star — he’s ready to step up and be more of a leader. Hardaway, 25, said he’s grown as a person and a player since the last time he wore a Knicks’ uniform.
“I’m a mature player now,” Hardaway said. “Everything is in full effect right now. I’m taking everything serious.”
Hardaway said he has changed because of the wake-up call he received in Atlanta.
Two of the knocks on him in his two seasons as a Knick were his poor defense and shot selection. After Hardaway was traded to Atlanta for the draft rights to Jerian Grant, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said he wouldn’t play if he didn’t give effort on defense. Hardaway only played in five of his first 35 games as a Hawk and was sent down to the D-League twice.
“It was a reality check for sure,” Hardaway said. “I’m happy that the Hawks actually did that. It made me a better person on and off the floor. It made me appreciate the opportunity at stake. And it just made me grow.
“I think it was more about maturing as a person, rather than the game. When they came with the maturity aspect it really helped me out on the floor, not taking crazy shots, knowing where to be on the defensive end of the floor, picking and choosing my spots wisely when to attack and when not to, get my teammates involved.”
Hardaway had his best season last year, averaging 14.5 points, including 17.5 points in 30 starts for the Hawks. He understands more will be expected of him after signing the big contract, but the ultra-confident Hardaway said he would embrace it.
“I just have to come in with the same mindset I came in with last season,” he said. “I know how much work I put in in the offseason. I know how much work I put in during the season. Yes there’s pressure, but you’ve got to embrace it, you’ve got to take it to heart. I’m ready to fulfill, to do whatever I have to do to help this team succeed as a ballplayer on and off the court.
“I’m on a team this upcoming season who’s going to take everything very serious. We have a lot of talent. It’s going to be a great season, I think, I believe. Hopefully everybody will get on board with it.”