When Tim Hardaway Jr. was introduced to the estimated 4,000 fans inside the Garden for Sunday’s Knicks open practice/intrasquad scrimmage, he heard as loud a cheer as there was for Kristaps Porzingis.
If fans still are irate over the contract (four years, $71 million) Hardaway was given in July, they also seemed happy he’s back for a second stint. For his part, Hardaway isn’t thinking about his big payday but another “P”-word — playoffs.
“At this point, I really couldn’t care less,” Hardaway said of the July media/fan backlash. “People need to move on and move forward with that. That’s in the past. We got to get ready for the season. If they’re still harping on that, their mind’s on something else. I’m focused on the team and here to win. I know my teammates and coaching staff and everybody in that front office has to have faith and trust in me that I’m going to go out there and do everything to help the team win.
“My expectation is for this team to make the playoffs.”
Knicks officials seem as focused on developing this young core — Hardaway is just 25 — as finishing as the eighth seed. But in a wretched Eastern Conference, in which a share of clubs appear to be in rebuilding/tanking mode, the Knicks could sneak in if Hardaway takes the next step as premier starting shooting guard.
Hardaway averaged 14.5 points on 45 percent shooting in 79 games last season in Atlanta and likely will be the team’s second-leading scorer after Porzingis — if not the top one with his outside shooting grace. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, former shooting coach and shooter extraordinaire, likes what he’s seen.
Tim Hardaway Jr.N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg
“It’s right there,” Hornacek said of Hardaway’s shooting mechanics. “He’s solid with it. It’s not different one shot to another. That’s why he’s a great shooter.”
Hornacek added he’s “really impressed” with Hardaway’s training camp, noting he is “helping and talking on defense” and “moving without the ball.” Hornacek said Hardaway is “setting an example” for a free-flowing offense — contrary to the club standing and watching Carmelo Anthony in the post.
After two seasons with the Knicks that included a first-team All-Rookie selection, Hardaway was dealt for the rights to point guard Jerian Grant on the night Porzingis got drafted.
It was one of many stinker trades by ousted president Phil Jackson and Anthony was furious. The Zen Master couldn’t imagine the Knicks’ 2013 first-round pick adjusting to the triangle or becoming a good defender.
Hardaway won’t have to worry about much triangle this season, and his defense got tighter during his two-year stint with the Hawks.
“It was great,” Hardaway said of returning to the Garden floor in Knicks blue and orange. “I’m happy to be back and where else but New York. I have unfinished business.”
While some triangle actions remain, Hornacek’s high-tempo attack is up Hardaway’s alley and not dissimilar to Atlanta.
“I love to get up and down, not just myself but for Kristaps,” Hardaway said. “We have a lot of guys who can push the pace. Our bigs can do that as well. We have to make sure we’re conditioned well, make sure we’re smart when we’re up and down and not crazy and flamboyant with the basketball.
“Atlanta was definitely high tempo, had great pace. In Atlanta, everybody trusted each other. If we can bring that to this team right now — trust to pass to guys who are open that they can knock it down — we’ll be fine.”
At some point this season and for many years, the starting backcourt is expected to be French rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina paired with Hardaway.
Hornacek said he will use three different starting lineups for the first three preseason games, likely using three different point guards in Ntilikina and veterans Ramon Sessions/Jarrett Jack.
Hornacek said he wants to avoid “demoralizing” Ntilikina by throwing him into the fire but has raved about his intangibles as the team’s quarterback. The shot-happy Hardaway makes a good combo with Ntilikina, who is not looking to shoot first.
“Frank has a fantastic pace to the game,” Hardaway said. “He knows the game, has a great feel for it. For a guy that’s 19, that’s hard to come by. He knows when to pick and choose his spot to score. He wants to be a facilitator. He looks very comfortable out there.”