DALLAS - The Dallas Mavericks managed to keep veteran guard Tim Hardaway Jr. in town after he signed a four-year, $74 million contract in free agency.
After surpassing the 20-point mark in four of his seven appearances in the Mavericks' first-round playoff matchup with the LA Clippers, there was much speculation about the type of money Hardaway Jr. would command in free agency.
Hardaway Jr. had options to sign elsewhere in free agency for more money from some other team. He even turned down a four-year contract offer worth $88 million in total compensation from the New Orleans Pelicans and instead opted to return to the Mavericks.
In his opening statement at the Mavericks introductory press conference, Hardaway Jr. made it clear he feels returning to the Mavericks was a choice he had to make to be part of 'something special.'
"I just want to thank Mark, Nico, J-Kidd, Finn, everybody in the front office/organization for allowing me to come back and be apart of something special. I really felt like I made a niche, I found a home, and just very proud, very happy of getting it done and coming back to the Dallas Mavericks."
For as much attention that has been placed on the Mavericks coming up empty after attempting to swing big in free agency, it could have been truly concerning had Hardaway Jr. felt compelled to sign elsewhere for more money.
It was a priority for Hardaway Jr. to return to the Mavericks and he communicated that to his agent, Mark Bartlstein of Priority Sports. He reiterated his desire to not be left out of what he feels is a special special situation where he has carved out a niche.
"I think everything starts with a foundation and with the guys that's been here for the last couple of years, I really think we have the core group of guys that can get the job done," Hardaway Jr. said. "I didn't want to be left out. Just talking with my agent and just making sure we got a deal done here and I can stay here to continue my work and continue to give the city of Dallas all of my passion and all of my playing ability and skills. It was a no-brainer to come back here."
The Mavericks have faced back-to-back first-round playoff exits at the hands of the Clippers. However, with two-time All-NBA First-Team recipient Luka Doncic as the franchise-cornerstone, Dallas is primed to breakthrough sooner rather than later.
Long before free agency, Hardaway Jr. knew that Dallas was the place he wanted to be. He made it clear he's long viewed the Mavericks as 'something special' be a part of long-term, even prior to the team taking part of the action in the NBA Bubble in Orlando last summer.
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"I think that just playing alongside of KP for these last four or five years now and playing alongside Luka since being part of the Mavs, I did really feel like after the year before we got to the bubble and before we went into that transition of the Covid protocols and everything," Hardaway Jr. said. "Leading up to that point, I really felt like this was a place for me to flourish and find my niche. After that moving forward, I really felt like I was part of something special. All the way up to now, I do feel like this is home and I belong."
To achieve their goals, the Mavericks will need a bounce-back season from Kristaps Porzingis where he can consistently stay healthy. However, greater involvement for Hardaway Jr. could be a helpful factor in the team making some level of improvement, too.
Josh Richardson was not a clean fit and he started in 56 of his 59 regular season appearances. He played 30.3 minutes per game despite shooting 33.0-percent from beyond the arc. His lack of impact was exacerbated in the postseason and ultimately proved he was not a clean fit.
It wasn't until Game 5 of the first-round series that Dallas finally went away from Richardson as he played roughly six minutes of action. He never reached 10 minutes of playing time for the remainder of the series.
Even when factoring in a struggling four-point outing in Game 4 of the series, Hardaway Jr. provided a needed 17.0 points per game against the Clippers in the series. He proved to be a pivotal element of the Mavericks' half-court offense with Porzingis struggles against the Clippers' small-ball switch-everything defense.
The Mavericks leaned upon Hardaway Jr. to not only make an impact off-the-catch in a variety of ways but specifically to counter the significant ball pressure the Clippers applied on Doncic. He did so consistently out of spot-up in addition to his shooting gravity as a screener and when deployed in off-ball screening actions.
Whether using a ball screen, handoff, or attacking off-the-catch, Hardaway Jr. provided timely results as a shot creator for the Mavericks' half-court offense in the playoffs. His potential was showcased in ways Dallas can utilize more often in the upcoming season.
Prior to Hardaway Jr. stepping up in the playoffs, the Mavericks had only started him in 31 of his 70 regular season appearances. Without Richardson on the roster, there isn't a need for Hardaway Jr. to deployed in any role other than a full-time starter.
There is legitimate room for Hardaway Jr. to receive a greater share of playing time on a game-by-game basis, too. He averaged just 28.4 minutes per game throughout the 2020-21 regular season -- the lowest single-season mark of his career since he was a member of the Atlanta Hawks.
Going forward, the Mavericks are now fully aware of what Hardaway Jr. is capable of achieving on the big stage. He made a compelling case for greater involvement and solidified that with his expressed loyalty to return to the team on a four-year deal.