Hardaway Ready to Lead in Second Stint With Knicks

Tim Hardaway Jr. wears identical black rubber bracelets around each wrist.

In white bold lettering is the word ‘Family’ and names of those he holds dear.

When the Knicks drafted Hardaway Jr. in 2013, he didn’t have those bracelets. He was like most rookies – head spinning, legs going nowhere at 100 MPH, arms firing up shots – some ill-advised – that left coaches muttering.

Four years later, Hardaway Jr. will again wear the white, orange and blue, but fans will see a markedly improved player and hear a significantly different narrative from the 25-year-old swingman.

This version of Timothy Duane Hardaway Jr. is ready to lead, not follow.

“I’m a mature player now and everything is in full effect,’’ Hardaway said Monday at Baruch College, where he participated in the Knicks Summer Basketball Camp Presented by Chase and Under Armour.

“I’m taking everything very serious. I know the team that I’m going to be on is taking everything very seriously and we have a lot of talent. It’s going to be a great season, I believe. And hopefully, everybody will get on board with it.’’

Hardaway will have an opportunity to be one of the conductors on the 2017-18 Knicks train. It’s a far cry from his first two seasons in New York when he learned the ropes as a rookie and had trouble holding on to the triangle rope in his second season.

He was traded to the Atlanta Hawks where his confidence waned. It culminated in 2015-16 with a demotion to the D-League, an experience that Hardaway Jr. credits with him having a breakout second half last season.

“It was a reality check for sure and just the help of my supporting cast, my friends, my parents, my agent, they just said, ‘Take it to heart. Don’t go down there messing around. Prove that you belong in the NBA,’’’ Hardaway said.

“My stint was short there but it was definitely a reality check. 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.’’

[Robbins: Hardaway Returns to Knicks More Mature]

The breakthrough moment for Hardaway Jr., the moment the Atlanta Hawks realized they had a player coming of age, came on New Year’s Day 2017.

Hardaway Jr. came off the bench to hit a game-tying 3 with 3.3 seconds left against the San Antonio Spurs. He would score nine of his 29 points in OT as Atlanta stunned the Spurs. He was 11-of-13 from the field, including 6-of-7 on 3’s.

Tim Hardaway Jr. talks about his excitement to come back to the Knicks, why he wants Carmelo Anthony to stay in New York and how he can work well with Kristaps Porzingis.

Hardaway Jr. was on his way from transitioning from a former D-Leaguer to future NBA starter.

“Confidence,’’ Hardaway said when asked what changed for him in the second half of last season. “The coaching staff, I just gained their trust, their confidence out on there on the floor. They put me in a lot of situations where I felt comfortable. I think it was just smooth sailing from then.’’

[Hahn: What Hardaway Move Means For Knicks]

The Knicks took note. Hardaway Jr. is the franchise’s signature free agent signing this summer, inking a four-year $71 million deal. He averaged 10.2 points on 42.8-percent shooting as a rookie and 14.5 points on 45.5-percent shooting last season.

Unlike Jimmy Butler, who has never played in Minnesota, or Gordon Hayward, who has never played in Boston, Hardaway Jr. has played in the Big Apple. He knows there are no off nights at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

“I mean, you get goosebumps walking through the door,’’ Hardaway said. “You get goosebumps walking onto the court. It’s like a stage and all the lights are shining on you. It feels like everybody in the world is watching you play.’’

Hardaway Jr. said he wants Carmelo Anthony, who mentored him four years ago, to remain a Knick but he knows that may not be the case. Hardaway Jr. might be the one to mentor the likes of rookies Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson, and Luke Kornet.

“I’m ready to lead him,’’ Hardaway said when asked about Ntilikina. “I don’t think he understands what it means to be a Knick right now.’’

Hardaway Jr. does. He understands the pressures and expectations that come with this job.

When he sat for his first wave of interviews on Monday, a battery of some 30 TV cameras, and then a second wave of about 20 print reporters, Hardaway Jr. was the epitome of poise and subtle confidence.

He used the word, ‘mature’ almost a dozen times and the word ‘confidence’ about a half dozen times when discussing his transition from 2013 rookie to 2017 veteran.

“It’s very rare for someone to leave a team and then come back,’’ Hardaway Jr. acknowledged. “I’m definitely going to make the most of it.

“It’s definitely a priority to show everybody that I am a changed person. I am a more confident guy out there on the court. I’m more mature now, ready to do whatever I can now to help the team win and just take on a bigger role now. It’s special. You can’t go wrong playing in The Mecca.’’