Tim Hardaway Jr. knows Kristaps Porzingis as well as anyone in the Mavericks’ organization.
That’s a distinction coach Jason Kidd already has made inroads toward claiming, by the way.
But Hardaway has been Porzingis’ teammate since before the 2017-18 season, when he signed a free-agent contract with New York. They were traded together to the Mavericks in 2019.
So Maverick fans should understand that Hardaway has seen the 7-3 Porzingis at his best – before his major knee injury.
“Being his teammate the longest of anybody on the roster, I know KP,” Hardaway said recently. “I know he’s back in Latvia busting his tail right now to get back to where he was before the injury when we were with the Knicks.
“I know how much he loves the game and how much he works. He’s going to do whatever he can to get back to that level. Injuries do play a part in the game.”
Of that, there is no debate.
Porzingis is enjoying his first summer that hasn’t included rehabbing a major injury since the ACL surgery he had in 2018.
And it wasn’t like Porzingis didn’t produce last season while clearly still recovering from another offseason knee procedure.
He averaged 20.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and shot 37.6 percent from 3-point range. However, he played only 43 of 72 games.
But this summer, there have been no concessions to injury rehab for Porzingis, which no doubt has been great for him. Kidd can attest to that. The new coach spent several days in Porzingis’ home country of Ltvia getting to know his big man better.
This came after spending a few days in Slovenia with Luka Dončić.
“You could see the comfort level those two have being at home,” Kidd said. “It helped me as a coach, being able to talk to those guys. It was incredible.
“Sometimes, we don’t take that opportunity to go see someone at their home. Domestically we do. We’ll go to Miami, Chicago. But to be able to go over there and see those guys was a win.”
And the visit with Porzingis was particularly revealing to Kidd.
“It was a really relaxed conversation,” Kidd said. “It was relaxed, no stress. He was himself. Basketball was talked about, his home. He was a great host, taking us to dinner.”
Slipping into tour-guide mode, Kidd said: “I thought it was similar to Seattle. It was cloudy in the morning, rained in the afternoon. And from 4 to 10 at night, it was beautiful. Being able to walk around at 10 or 11 at night and the weather was perfect, it was really, really nice.
“The first thing I told (his players) about that trip is that they all need to go. Two beautiful countries. Luka was a great host. KP was an incredible host, too. To see them on their turf – the hospitality was unbelievable, the food, the wine. And you forget about the time difference after a while.”
Hardaway, armed with his new four-year contract, will go into this season with a much firmer grasp on his role with the Mavericks. Last season, he floated from the bench to the starting lineup. Mostly, he functioned as a reserve.
With Josh Richardson gone, that figures to change.
He could also see an uptick from the 28.4 minutes per game he saw last season. That, and the new contract, are the spoils after shooting over 39 percent from 3-point range last season and having a very sharp run in the seven-game playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
All of that, he said, made returning to the Mavericks this summer an easy decision.
“I think everything starts with the foundation,” Hardaway said. “The guys that have been here the last couple years now, I really feel we have that core group of guys that can get the job done.
“And I didn’t want to be left out. Talking with my agent, and making sure we got a deal done here and I could continue my work and continue to give the city of Dallas all of my passion and skills. It was a no-brainer to come back here.”