The No. 1 thing for Tim Hardaway Jr. right now is feeling good about going into the offseason knowing that his health is going to be just fine.
Surgery fixed the broken bone in his left foot. He’s done 4½ months of rehab and training to get the foot right again.
And he should be normal come training camp in October.
That’s when the interesting part will start for the 6-5 swingman and the Mavericks.
Hardaway’s situation is going to be an interesting component of the Mavericks’ roster as they move into 2022-23.
He has been a starter 126 times and a sixth man 76 times since his arrival in the Kristaps Porzingis trade in 2019.
He’s been a reliable scorer and a good 3-point shooter in both roles.
But with the Mavericks hoping to inject more talent to their roster, and with Jalen Brunson becoming a fixture in the starting lineup during the successful 2021-22 season, Hardaway’s role is a bit uncertain.
It will be up to coach Jason Kidd and the staff to figure out how best to utilize Hardaway’s skills, which clearly could have provided a boost during the playoff run this season.
“I’m definitely excited to talk to the coaching staff, J-Kidd, Nico (Harrison, general manager) and really get an idea moving forward of what they see (for) myself,” Hardaway said after the season ended. “I’m pretty sure they know and everybody else knows what I can do. Just moving forward, just trying to see what role I do actually play. And we’ll go from there.”
Hardaway was averaging 14.2 points when his season ended on Jan. 25 at Golden State, when he took a bad step and the bone in his foot fractured.
He also had missed time in December because of COVID-19.
The foot injury turned Hardaway into a part of the Mavericks’ bench mob, led by two-way player Theo Pinson.
The pair of them became player-coaches on the sidelines during games and their antics became celebrated by the franchise and earned three fines from the NBA for their overexuberance.
But Hardaway, 30, is in the prime of his career. He wants to play, not be a moral-support player.
And he said he was not far away from returning to game action.
“I’m just happy I can go into an offseason healthy, for the most part,” Hardaway said. “It was gut-wrenching to go out there sitting on the sideline each and every day and not be able to actually play and help the team go out there and compete on every single possession.
“But I did the best I could, for the most part, with Theo and the bench mob, just trying to be that energy giver, not the energy drainer. Just trying to come in every single day, work my tail off trying to get back.”
And . . .
“You never know, if the finals would have approached, I probably would have had an opportunity. You never know. But with that being said, I’m happy going into the offseason healthy.”
When Hardaway does return next season, he’ll do so as part of a Mavericks’ organization whose profile has changed.
No longer the hunter. They are the hunted.
And that’s not always an easy position to adapt to. The Atlanta Hawks went to the Eastern Conference finals in 2020-21, then were scrambling to make the playoffs this season.
Portland was in the West finals a few years back, then faded out of the limelight.
“It was exciting to see your guys going to war every day and being resilient,” Hardaways said. “It’s great that they overcame a lot of obstacles that some people didn’t give us a chance.
“With that being said, we are the hunted now. There’s no going into next season being the underdogs. Everybody’s going to give us their best shot. Going into this offseason, everybody has to understand that.”
And how do you adjust to that mode of thinking?
“The same way with the two words J-Kidd emphasizes every single day: chemistry and accountability,” Hardaway said. “When you have those two and you take it to heart and make sure you hold each other accountable going out there pushing each other and making sure we have your back on every possession no matter who the person is, then everything will take care of itself.”
And it will take care of itself for Hardaway, too, after being a bystander for the last half of this season, plus the playoff run.