Most Memorable Knicks Free Agent Moment: Tim Hardaway Jr. Gets the Bag

Jonathan Macri

Just a year prior, the pain had been strident and swift.

On June 29, 2016 - more than two days before the official beginning of what would turn out to be the most imprudent spending period in the history of the NBA - the Knicks had already left their inglorious mark.

There was no suspense. We knew, almost a full 48 hours before the clock struck midnight on July 1, that Phil Jackson had lit $72 million ablaze. The band aide had been ripped off, and while there was always a slim chance that Joakim Noah would revert back to his pre-injury, DPOY form, the deal was immediately and universally panned, with good reason.

This was the set up for the free agent period that sticks out most in my mind when I think back through the more than two decades of Knicks history I've been able to closely observe: 2017.

July of 2017 started out for the Knicks as tumultuously as imaginable, with Phil Jackson parting ways with the organization just days prior to free agency. In his place jumped Steve Mills, a college player turned businessman turned front office executive from whom nobody knew quite what to expect.

As is often the case, the initial spending came fast and furious, but unlike the prior summer, there weren't many deals that immediately looked like outright disasters. Sure, Jeff Teague for three years and $57 million was a bit rich, as was Danilo Gallinari for the same term at $65 million. Otto Porter becoming a nine-figure man was eye opening but expected. The Miami spending spree on Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk was also a collective head-scratcher, and Cristiano Feliciano should still be sending GarPax daily thank you cards.

Overall though, it was a more conservative opening few days of free agency than the disaster that was 2016. Still, teams were spending, maybe not foolishly, but consistently. 

Through it all, the team that had perhaps handed out more dollars in ridiculous contracts through the previous decade and a half sat idly on the sideline. I remember that as each hour and eventually each day after midnight on July 1 went by, I allowed a distinct thought to enter my mind more and more:

Holy s---, they're doing it. The Knicks are staying liquid. They're thinking big. They're playing the long game. It's. Finally. Happening.

By the morning of July 6, it seemed like the dust had finally settled and New York, under Mills' stewardship, was being smart: hand the team over to Porzingis, give their new rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina a crash course in NBA basketball, probably lose a lot of games, and head into next year's draft - one featuring a European wunderkind who was supposed to pretty good - in prime position. Best of all, they'd maintain more financial flexibility than any team in the league and be ready to jump on any potential opportunities as they popped up.

And then, as I stood in my kitchen preparing to head out for a run, the news broke...and kept breaking: 

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Four years.

$71 million.

Player option.

Trade kicker.

All for a player who 18 months prior had suited up for the Austin freaking Toros. I finally had to cut my jog short because I was too tempted to run into oncoming traffic.

If it wasn't already too much to bear, I masochistically read and listened to every piece of free agency analysis that discussed the deal over the next several days. Zach Lowe's response, in which he wondered aloud whether the reaction of Atlanta's front office when they received the terms of the offer sheet was outright uproarious laughter or simple bewilderment, stung the most.

The worst part? He was justified. Everyone one. The offer sheet was absurd on its face.

Sure enough, I eventually crawled up to my laptop and attempted to, if not outright defend the deal, at least make sense of the thinking behind it. I did the best I could, but the title - Defending the Indefensible - kind of said it all.

Like most Knicks fans, I hoped for the best: that KP, Tim and Frank would form a fun young core capable of making the Knicks a drawing card for a bigger fish in the years to come.

Little did I know at the time that my idea of "best" - a 16-13 start during which those three players sported an obscene +30.2 net rating - would be New York's nightmare. They achieved enough early-season wins to keep them out of the Luka sweepstakes, and instead were left with Kevin Knox. How ya doin'.

The aftermath - trading away Porzingis to unload the Hardaway contract - can only be beaten on the absurdity scale by what has happened in Dallas, where Timmy has turned into the player Steve Mills probably thought he was signing. If the NBA weren't facing a potential economic crisis, there's a legit possibility that THJ would opt out of the final year of his deal and test free agency amidst a comparatively weak class.

If he did, I know of one team in particular who could use a sweet-shooting wing that offers a bit of playmaking and doesn't mind being a third option. You know...third time being the charm and all.

In the meantime, as we approach the three-year anniversary of maybe the singular fork in the road moment of the last decade in Knicks history, I can only think of those early days of July, when I dreamt that what they were doing - absolutely nothing - would continue.

Oh well. You live and you learn.

We hope.

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