Ex-Wolverine Hardaway Jr. enjoys fresh start with Hawks

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Tim Hardaway Jr. checks LeBron James in a preseason game earlier this month.

Atlanta — For Tim Hardaway Jr., a few months and a change of scenery can alter things drastically.

After being traded in June from the New York Knicks to the Atlanta Hawks, the outlook is different. The pregame media sessions don't have as many reporters and things have slowed down. That might be just what the former Michigan star needs to find his niche, as he begins his third NBA season.

The Knicks missed the playoffs in both his seasons in New York and struggled through a 17-65 season last year. But with the move to Atlanta, he joins a team that won 60 games last year, best in the Eastern Conference, and is headed in a different direction.

"It's a different vibe; everybody is about their business and moves at their pace. It's not too fast and everybody is serious about their work," Hardaway said Tuesday, ahead of the Pistons-Hawks season opener. "I'm coming to a team that made it to the playoffs last year and got deep into the playoffs; they have high expectations of themselves and it's great to come into an environment like that."

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The Hawks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which has motivated them to make another run this year. That hunger and the blue-collar work ethic is what's motivating Hardaway to try to be a difference-maker.

Hardaway, who starred at Michigan for three seasons, started 30 games last season but primarily will be a sparkplug scorer off the bench for the Hawks, behind Kyle Korver.

In an odd twist of scheduling, the Hawks' first two games are against his father, who is an assistant coach with the Pistons, and against the Knicks. Playing against his father, though, isn't hard after a few meetings in the past two seasons.

It helps that Tim Jr. has had some standout games — including three last season in which he averaged 21 points. But Tim Sr. just lets him be, without lobbing any extra trash talk or encouragement his way.

"No, we don't do anything. It's business as usual, which it's supposed to be. We're not talking smack or junk or anything like that," Tim Sr. said. "If he makes a shot, I tell (the Pistons) that you can't leave him alone and make him do something else to not let him shoot that easily."

But Tim Jr. expects it, whether it's coming or not.

"I never look his way. He doesn't chirp too much," Tim Jr. said. "He's still a father at the end of the day and is coaching them, so he won't talk too much."

Tim Sr. sees the move to the Hawks as a benefit for his son, one that could help him make a jump with a more defined role and more seasoned veterans around him.

"This team really fits his body of work. It's a team that goes out there and goes about their business and they're not flashy or loud about it," Tim Sr. said. "They're blue-collar and workmanlike — and that's the way Tim is. It fits him personally."

The shift also puts Tim Jr. on a winning team, which he had been accustomed to under UM coach John Beilein in his time with the Wolverines, including a trip to the NCAA championship game in 2013.

"Just coming from a great historical program like Michigan and we were winning all the time, you get brought back to reality — and some people need that," Hardaway said. "It made me a better person and made me mature a lot quicker and a lot more.

"You understand what work you have to put in to be an elite athlete at this level, so it helped me out tremendously."

Revamped Pistons race toward respectability

Pistons vs. Jazz

Tipoff: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, The Palace

TV/radio: FSD/WMGC

Outlook: The Pistons' home opener is the first of three straight at The Palace. The Jazz have won 17 of 19 overall in the series, including both meetings last season.