The Hawks’ decision not to match the Knicks’ offer sheet to Tim Hardaway Jr. hardly comes as any surprise. New York was excessively savvy in framing the contract, throwing in hefty provisions left and right. These reportedly include a fourth year player option, a 15% trade kicker, and a guaranteed delivery of 50% of his annual salary prior to the start of each season on October 1st.
Hardaway Jr. isn’t a bad player. In fact, he’s improved quite a bit since leaving the Knicks. His indecisiveness on offense has seemed to dissipate. He makes better decisions with the ball and is a much more efficient scorer. On a young team like the Knicks, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to be embraced as a go-to-guy and average upward towards 20 points per contest. He likely has a bright future ahead as his improvement continues. Hardaway Jr. has proven to be incredibly dedicated to his craft.
Alas, his level of talent is not the issue. His current level of quality play simply doesn’t justify the means to such a contract, even in today’s booming NBA economy. Surely there had to be a respectable gap between what the Hawks and Knicks were willing to pay. New York should have attempted to find more of a middle ground to scare Atlanta away, but still retain his services at a reasonable rate. Instead, this decision should come as a no-brainer for the Hawks to let him go.
What’s more, paying Hardaway Jr. (or any prospective free agent, for the matter) this amount of money doesn’t exactly fit into what a traditional youth movement has become known as. This a transitional period where the Knicks should be exercising patience. An investment like this suggests otherwise.
The organization is obviously familiar with Hardaway Jr. and did value his development process. Perhaps this is an acknowledgment and a certain attempt to right a wrong. Those in the organization not named Phil Jackson may still see more promise in the 25 year old.
Still, this is an expensive price to pay in order to prove it. Framing this deal in such a delicate way will also make it all the more difficult for the Knicks to move him in the future, if the investment does not work out.