The New York Knicks on Thursday made one of the biggest and strangest splashes of NBA free agency.
According to reports, the Knicks signed 25-year-old shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million offer sheet.
Hardaway is a restricted free agent, meaning the Atlanta Hawks can match any offer he receives (they have two days to do so), but most indications are that they won’t.
The Knicks appear to have severely outbid the competition for Hardaway. According to ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, the Hawks’ intended offer was, well, much lower.
Hawks were thinking something in the neighborhood of $45M for Hardaway. This latest act of Knickery should make the call easier.
— Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) July 7, 2017
Likewise, ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who called the contract “ludicrous,” reported the Hawks were planning to offer a much lower deal.
“The Hawks were willing to offer Hardaway a four-year deal in the $48 million range, league sources said,” Lowe wrote. “The Knicks blew that out of the water with a four-year, $71 million monstrosity .”
Making matters even more confusing, the Knicks drafted Hardaway in 2013, then traded him in 2015 on draft night. Things came full circle, apparently.
Tim Hardaway Jr. was traded for Jerian Grant who was traded for Derrick Rose who was renounced so NYK could sign Hardaway Jr. for $71M.
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 7, 2017
Hardaway experienced a nice turnaround in Atlanta, averaging 14 points on 45% shooting 2016-17. After the All-Star break, Hardaway played some of the best ball of his career, averaging 17 points per game on 47% shooting, 37% from three, with 3.5 rebounds per game while showing a renewed commitment to defense.
Still, the Knicks’ offer seems to have come out of left field. To sign restricted free agents, teams sometimes must overpay a little to dissuade the original team from matching, but the Knicks went perhaps well above what any other team would pay.
These moves have real consequences, too. As SB Nation’s Tom Ziller notes, Hardaway is set to take up a big portion of the Knicks’ cap, a less-than-ideal move for a rebuilding team like the Knicks.
“Hardaway’s average salary is something like 18 percent of the salary cap,” Ziller wrote. “You can’t be paying a guy who should be your fifth or sixth best player 18 percent of the cap! Math dictates that you don’t do that!”
Additionally, the move also limits the Knicks’ ability to target a point guard, their biggest need on the roster. Currently, the Knicks have second-year guard Ron Baker and first-round pick Frank Ntilikina, neither of whom seem qualified to start. The Knicks renounced the rights to Derrick Rose to sign Hardaway, and few viable options remained on the market after top players and alleged Knicks targets George Hill, Jeff Teague, and Jrue Holiday signed elsewhere.
Hardaway is young enough and skilled enough that he may continue to develop and become more than a solid wing scorer. But once again, one year after signing Joakim Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract, the Knicks have appeared to hand out one of the worst deals of the summer.