At the game, Hardaway and his young teammate met Knicks and Rangers owner James Dolan.
Dolan pulled the two players aside and told them they were an important part of the Knicks’ future.
Dolan’s description was accurate, though in a roundabout way.
Two years after being traded from New York -- which took him 24th overall in the 2013 draft -- Hardaway might find himself back with the Knicks after he signed a four-year, $71 million offer sheet with the club.
The Hawks have two days to match the offer, but it appears that the club is unlikely to do so. Per ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, Atlanta projected that Hardaway would get an offer sheet totaling around $45 million.
The Knicks blew that offer out of the water and opened themselves up for criticism in the process.
Hardaway showed great improvement in his past two seasons with the Hawks, who transformed him by initially benching him and sending him to the NBA's G League. Hardaway eventually developed into a key rotation player for Atlanta and started games for the club late in the regular season and in the playoffs.
Hardaway’s talent as a scorer is undeniable, but scouts still question his ability to defend. Hardaway finished 59th in real defensive plus-minus among the 98 shooting guards who qualified. Can he continue to improve under the Knicks' player-development program in the same way he had been in Atlanta? That will be one of the biggest factors in judging this acquisition in the future.
In the present, the Hardaway deal could leave the Knicks with few options at point guard.
New York will have to renounce its rights to Derrick Rose and Sasha Vujacic and likely waive either Marshall Plumlee or Chasson Randle to fit Hardaway’s deal under the salary cap (which is all dependent on the still-unknown terms for Ron Baker).
If the Hawks match, the Knicks can rescind the renouncement of Rose and Vujacic. But if Atlanta doesn’t match, the Knicks would be left with just the room afforded by the midlevel exception ($4.3 million) to spend in free agency.
Is that enough to re-sign Rose or bring Rajon Rondo aboard? Unlikely. Can that get the Knicks Shelvin Mack? That remains to be seen. They had prioritized finding a veteran point guard to help mentor rookie Frank Ntilikina, but they might not have the money to do so. It's worth noting that the Knicks have also talked to the Celtics about a potential trade for Marcus Smart, though nothing had materialized there as of Thursday, per sources.
Hardaway's potential return to New York is general manager Steve Mills’ first big move as team president. Mills is the Knicks’ top decision-maker in the wake of Dolan’s decision to part ways with Phil Jackson. Whatever you want to say about the transaction, it was certainly Mills stepping away from Jackson’s shadow. Remember, Jackson traded Hardaway for the rights to Jerian Grant the night of the 2015 draft.
On the Carmelo front, the Knicks remain interested in trading Anthony and the Houston Rockets remain interested in acquiring him, per sources.
Lee’s situation isn’t that simple; he’s entering the second year of a four-year, $48 million contract. The shooting guard's immediate future with the club is unclear, but it would be logical for the Knicks to look to trade the 31-year-old.
Where the Knicks go at point guard is unclear.
What we do know is Hardaway’s potential return to New York is symbolic of the winding, bumpy path to team-building Knicks executives have taken for the past few seasons.
As mentioned previously, Hardaway was traded for Grant in 2015. Grant was subsequently traded for Rose, who was renounced so the Knicks could do what they did Thursday: sign Hardaway to a $71 million offer sheet.