November 23, 2017 | 2:33 pm EST Update
Tim Hardaway Jr. is making his return to Atlanta at the perfect time, emerging from a career-high 38 points, arriving at Philips Arena on Friday with a team that’s the surprise of the NBA at 10-7. There was early panning of Hardaway’s signing in July, but sometimes you can come back home. Hardaway felt he made the right choice then to leave Atlanta, and he knows it now. “I’m thankful to be back here, man,’’ Hardaway said. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me. I’m happy. I’m excited. This group loves one another. You can see it on the floor we’re playing for one another. The passion is there and we continue to find out identity.’’
The Knicks were still worried they would strike out on another free agent. The Hawks could have matched the offer with Hardaway a restricted free agent. Atlanta passed and the Knicks got shredded for overpaying a player they traded away in 2015 and who had never been a full-time starter. “There was that concern,’’ Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said of the Hawks’ matching. “Tim had started to turn the corner in terms of being a great player. He finished last season having a very, very good second half. We knew that was the beginning. I don’t think there was concern bringing him back. Mills did a great job of figuring out how to get him and what it might take. There was concern Atlanta might match it. When they didn’t, we were very happy.’’
Willie Cauley-Stein hears the criticism, but he won’t be forced into a defense-only box. “I’m not real active around the rim the way people want me to be,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’ve got some mental things with that, that people never understand until it happens to you.” Cauley-Stein is still haunted by some of the injuries he’s suffered playing around the rim defensively.
That includes having to receive 35 stitches in his hand at one point. He also dislocated his finger as a rookie when he hit his hand on the backboard after blocking a shot. “When I’m under the rim I’m real cognitive like, shoot I know I should go get this but nah, I’m not messing with it,” Cauley-Stein said. “So it’s a mental battle when you get injured, you’re thinking about it. It’s just something you have to battle through.”
“I don’t think there’s any bigs in this league that can guard me off the bounce, so I’m quick enough where I can get past big dudes and strong enough when there’s a little guy on me I can just take him in the post,” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “I’m starting to find my package a little bit, I’m starting to get in my bag and I’ve got a few tricks to get fouls and try to get going a little bit more.”