So a dubious streak by the Knicks finally came to an end this weekend and it comes with somewhat of an asterisk.
The team announced on Saturday that they officially signed restricted free agent Tim Hardaway Jr. to a contract reported to be a four-year deal worth $71 million.
Hardaway Jr. was a first-round pick of the Knicks in 2013. He was later traded to the Hawks for the pick that became Jerian Grant. Hardaway became a restricted free agent when his rookie deal, originally signed with the Knicks, ended after last season.
The Knicks haven’t drafted a player who they then signed out of their rookie deal in over 10 years. Technically, signing Hardaway Jr. ended that run where seven straight former first-round picks by the team — Iman Shumpert, Jordan Hill, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Renaldo Balkman, Mardy Collins and Channing Frye — never reached their second contract with the franchise.
Yes, Hardaway Jr. finished his rookie deal in Atlanta. We told you there would be an asterisk.
And it’s a big one — even bigger than that reported average salary of $17.7 million — when you consider that you’d have to go back to the 2005 NBA Draft when the Knicks selected David Lee (30th overall) to find the last player they drafted and signed two a second contract off their rookie deal.
Lee was signed in the summer of 2009 to a one-year contract — the Knicks were not committing long-term to anyone in the predawn of the LeBronathon — and then the next summer Lee was sent away in a sign-and-trade for the LeBron consolation prize, Amar’e Stoudemire.
Before Lee, you have to go back over 20 years to find a player the Knicks drafted and signed beyond his rookie deal. That would be Charlie Ward (1994).
Hardaway Jr. was brought back for the same reasons why he was drafted 24th overall in 2013 and he was considered one of the steals of the draft. General Manager Steve Mills explained it in his statement:
“As a versatile wing whose game continues to improve,” Mills said, “he will fit right into the core of players that make up a roster emphasizing youth, athleticism, accountability and unselfishness.”
Tim acclimated well in his first season with the Knicks and was named first-team All-Rookie. Four seasons later, you could argue he is among the top-10 players in the relatively weak 2013 draft class, which had Anthony Bennett as the No. 1 pick and Victor Oladipo at No. 2.
If you’re re-drafting, Giannis Antetokounpo (15th overall), goes No. 1 and Rudy Gobert (27th) would be No. 2. You can still make a case for Otto Porter to remain the No. 3 pick and CJ McCollom would follow.
After that, who would you take at No. 5? Steven Adams? Dennis Schroeder? Oladipo? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?
Hardaway Jr. last season took major steps toward elevating his status among his draft class. He averaged 14.5 points per game with a True Shooting percentage of 56.8% (anything over 55% is considered very good). His 33-point performance (with 24 points in the fourth quarter) back in February against James Harden and the Rockets in an epic comeback win caught everyone’s attention around the league.
For Hardaway, it was a night to savor after spending the better part of a year rebuilding his game and learning how to be a pro away from the challenges of New York City. The Hawks sent him to the D-League in his first season and made him work his way back into the league and their guard-heavy rotation.
The Knicks right now – despite a glaring need at the starting point guard position – are overloaded at the shooting guard spot with veteran Courtney Lee and intriguing second-round pick Damyean Dotson.
Hardaway Jr., at 6-foot-6, could play some three-spot in a small lineup attack, but it bears watching how the roster will look by the time training camp opens.
There are possibly more moves on the horizon, including one that could include Carmelo Anthony. Reports have the Houston Rockets showing interest in a deal and that Melo would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to join Harden and Melo’s pal, Chris Paul.
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With the addition of Hardaway Jr., however, the Knicks don’t have any cap space left to acquire a starting point guard, so any moves at this point would likely involve some payroll relief. There aren’t many options left on the open market at the point guard position, though there is mutual interest between the Knicks and Rajon Rondo, who could be a mentor for Ntilikina.
By the way, interesting choice of words by Mills in his statement about the team’s roster makeup of “youth, athleticism, accountability and unselfishness.”
Those first two words describe where the league is right now and the Knicks didn’t have nearly enough of either. The last two words suggest more elements missing from the team.