Hardaway family reunion puts Pistons assistant in a tough spot

Tim Hardaway will be at Stan Van Gundy’s side on the Pistons bench tonight with conflicted emotions when his son, Tim Hardaway Jr., plays for the Knicks.
Dan Lippitt/Nathaniel S. Butler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

For every big play Tim Hardaway Jr. might make against the Pistons tonight, the man who gave him his name and so much more will choke down the urge to yell his support. But if he spots an opening to attack a weakness in a player whose game he knows intimately, he won’t hesitate to pass along advice.

“I’m trying to win here, too,” Stan Van Gundy’s rookie assistant coach, Tim Hardaway, said on the eve of his first game ever on the opposite end of the court from his son. “So I’m going to let the players know, I’m going to let the staff know what I think we should do to him so he won’t be in his comfort zone. That will ultimately make him better, so it can go two ways. But I want to win here first.”

Hardaway expects a swirl of emotions whenever his son steps on the court.

“You always want your son to come out and play well and do what he’s supposed to do out there on the basketball court, no matter who he’s playing against,” he said. “And that’s what I want my son to do, just go out there and play well. You always want what’s best for your son.”

Hardaway’s playing time and scoring have been cut in half from his 2013-14 numbers, when he was named to the All-Rookie first team after averaging 10.2 points and shooting 36 percent from the 3-point line in 23 minutes a game. He was chosen 24th in the first round following a strong few months on the predraft circuit after being projected as a second-round pick for most of his three seasons at Michigan, when ended in the 2013 NCAA title game.

His father was an ever-present face in the crowd during his days in Ann Arbor and is understandably thrilled to see him experiencing some of the success he enjoyed over his 14-year career.

“I was there for his first game, first preseason game, first real game – it was great,” he said. “It’s something I can’t describe. You’ve got to go through it, but it feels great. Your son is out there doing something that you love to do and was very passionate about doing it and now he has the passion, he has the love and he wants to go out there and excel. It’s just fun watching him play.”

Van Gundy never had to coach against one of his children, but he thinks he can put himself in Hardaway’s shoes for the time he’s spent coaching against his brother, Jeff.

“It’s a different thing,” he said. “I’ve talked to Doc Rivers about it; he’s had to do it with Austin. I’ve talked to Mike Dunleavy about it. It can’t be a lot of fun. Just like I always said when I would coach against my brother, you’re so conditioned that you pull for them. It’s your family. You want them to do well and then you’re on a night where if he does well it’s not good for you and the team you’re with.

“Tim, I’m sure, has thoughts about it, but I’ll just say from experience that I don’t think Tim knows how he’s going to feel until he gets out there because I know that was my experience. I didn’t have any idea what was going to happen.”

Hardaway Jr. has veterans Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith ahead of him for minutes at the wing positions, but his father knows that the 82-game NBA schedule creates opportunities for almost everyone. Being prepared to pounce separates those who stay in the league for 14 years from those who wash out and find themselves overseas trying to work their way back to the NBA.

“I kind of knew something like this could happen,” he said of his son’s diminished role through the first three games. “But whenever you’re called up, you’re a professional now. You’ve got to go in there and do what you’re able to do.”

What turned Hardaway into a first-round pick and got his NBA career off to such a promising start is his scoring ability, mostly the range and consistency of his 3-point shot. If he makes a few of those against the Pistons, there will be one person on the opposite bench with conflicted emotions.

“You always want your kid to excel,” Hardaway said. “I’m not going to show it, but always inside I’m going to feel happy for him.”