Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. signed an offer sheet with the New York Knicks on Thursday night for four years and $71 million, with a player option on the final year and a 15 percent trade kicker. Hardaway is a restricted free agent, so the Hawks have the right to match the Knicks’ offer sheet and bring Hardaway back to Atlanta on that same contract. However, this would be a monumental mistake, as it would put another overpaid wing on the Hawks roster and get them no closer to the rebuild they desperately need.
Every move this offseason has been geared toward a rebuild: trading Dwight Howard, letting Paul Millsap go, facilitating a sign-and-trade to land a future first-round pick and a young player in Diamond Stone, and hoarding cap space rather than signing veterans. Matching on this offer sheet would undo all of that work, zapping the Hawks’ financial flexibility in future years for a player not worth the money.
Hardaway’s projection from FiveThirtyEight landed him on a four-year deal worth about $33.5 million; this offer sheet is more than double that amount. Those projections are imperfect, but they’re a good ballpark estimation of a player’s value.
Hardaway is a fine player to have on your team, just not on that contract. He’s not as atrocious defensively as he was two years ago, he can knock down a three-pointer, and even has a decent off-the-dribble game for a wing. This is not an indictment of Hardaway as a player—he has his flaws but absolutely has his place in the league. This is an indictment of the contract, the direction Atlanta is going, and the vast dichotomy between those two things.
Bringing back Hardaway would hamstring the Hawks for the entirety of his contract, setting back their rebuild further than it already is. Kent Bazemore’s contract is already an eyesore on the team’s cap sheet, but teams can overcome one bad contract during a rebuild.
Two such contracts, especially for guys who both play the same position, makes the rebuild that much more difficult, as any wings behind them in the depth chart (Taurean Prince, for example) wouldn’t get the necessary playing time to develop their games. We already saw last season that Bazemore’s new contract was a hinderance, as head coach Mike Budenholzer was unwilling to move Bazemore to the bench when things were going poorly for the Hawks’ starting unit.
Fortunately, it seems as though the Hawks are unlikely to match, per reporting from ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz:
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
Had the offer sheet come in $20 million lower, then the Hawks would have had a tough decision on their hands, but at $71 million over four years, there should be no reason to bring Hardaway back. He’s done a fantastic job developing parts of his game and has made large strides on the defensive end, but the direction of the franchise just doesn’t match the idea of paying Hardaway $18.25 million per season for the next four years.