ATLANTA — Now that he’s added Tim Hardaway Jr., Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has narrowed his focus on re-signing All-Star forward Paul Millsap and starting guard DeMarre Carroll.
NBA teams can begin negotiating with free agents at 12 a.m. Wednesday, and Budenholzer believes the acquisition of Hardaway will help convince Millsap and Carroll to stay in Atlanta.
“Our most important thing is keeping our team together, so the more time I have to spend time with Paul and DeMarre and our players, I welcome that,” Budenholzer said.
Millsap and Carroll helped the Hawks win a franchise-best 60 games last season. For the first time, Atlanta advanced to the Eastern Conference finals before being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the team is building a foundation for what Budenholzer hopes is long-term success.
The Hawks traded for Hardaway during the NBA draft last week, sending the 19th overall pick to the New York Knicks to add a dependable backup for shooting guard Kyle Korver.
Hardaway was named to the league’s all-rookie team two seasons ago before struggling last season to define his role in the Knicks’ new triangle offense. He also occasionally was criticized for lackluster defense and poor shot selection.
“I took a step back, but I learned a lot in my second year,” Hardaway said. “I kind of know what to expect going into this year with the work ethic and what I have to put into my game to make myself a better ballplayer.”
Budenholzer considers Hardaway a good fit to an offense predicated on spacing, sharing the ball and setting screens.
The Hawks showed signs during playoff series wins over Brooklyn and Washington that their offense was bogging down, but they hit bottom against Cleveland.
Their defense had no answer for LeBron James and Atlanta’s offense missed an abundance of easy shots and couldn’t match the Cavs’ intensity.
“I think everyone knows how much we value shooting,” Budenholzer said. “Tim’s ability to make shots in different situations —whether it’s coming off screens, spotting up, the more shot-makers you have, the more difficult you are to guard.”
Hardaway averaged 10.8 points in his first two seasons. He knows the Hawks need him to improve his career numbers of 1.3 assists and 1.8 rebounds.
“I think I bring depth to the shooting guard position and I can come off screens, make plays for others and just try to be that energy source,” Hardaway said, “whether I’m coming off the bench or as the case may be.”
Hardaway wasn’t terribly surprised when he learned the Knicks had traded him.
But when he heard that Knicks president Phil Jackson called draft pick Jerian Grant a better fit for the triangle offense, Hardaway promised to have the last word.
“Once I heard him say that, all hands on deck now,” Hardaway said. “Obviously as a basketball player, you take that to heart. So, it’s time to move on, get better, and when the time comes, the time comes. Right now, it’s all about Atlanta basketball.”
Hardaway said he appreciated the support of Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony, who criticized the deal and called his former teammate to wish him well. Though he wouldn’t offer specifics of their conversation, Hardaway appreciated the chance to play with Anthony even though New York had the NBA’s second-worst record at 17-65 last season.
“How you score the ball, how you can limit your dribbling to get to the basket — how you’re hungry — he’s always hungry for more and hungry for the competition,” Hardaway said. “That’s what I think I can bring here as well.”
Budenholzer wasn’t interested in discussing whatever went wrong for Hardaway in New York.
His concern now is to keep Millsap and Carroll on board.
“These guys have earned this opportunity,” Budenholzer said. “I think they’re going to have people who are interested in pursuing them. What they want and need, you can never be sure. Hopefully we know them well.”