DALLAS – It’s been a while since Tim Hardaway Jr. played competitive basketball.

Specifically, January.

He broke his foot in a mid-season matchup with the Golden State Warriors, and he spent the rest of the season watching Dallas play from the sidelines. Hardaway remained in good spirits, cheering on the bench, and forcing the NBA to make a rule to calm his sideline presence. But he wanted to be out there, helping his team as they made a run to the Western Conference Finals.

Hardaway’s back now. And he opened training camp by saying he’s a different player than when he got hurt early in 2022. The Mavericks are different as well. With no Jalen Brunson, and the additions of Christian Wood and JaVale McGee, Dallas has a different — but same — feel to its team makeup. The results of those roster changes mean Hardaway will be asked to be something different for this version of the Mavericks. Head coach Jason Kidd has tasked Hardaway with accepting that changing role, and he’s seen the Mavericks’ veteran sharpshooter take on the challenge well through the first nine days of training camp.

“It’s great to have him back, a guy who averaged 18 points, who can give us toughness on the defensive end, and then on the offensive end, he can score,” Kidd said. “He’s someone we are going to trust when he’s out there on the floor.”

When Hardaway went down, he was finally starting to play up to the hearty contract extension he received in the summer of 2021. Dallas was also finally starting to live up to some of its preseason expectations following a slow start through December.

That’s what made Hardaway’s injury timing devastating. He didn’t get a chance to be part of the turnaround.

So, it makes sense that, coming into this season, Hardaway has a level of “seriousness” that hasn’t been as pressing in years past, he said. He’s a new player and wants everyone to see that.

“I do think they [the Mavericks] are getting a different player in me,” he said. “I only played a handful of games last year. And I am just ready to play…If it were up to me, I’d be playing every day.”

What is exciting about Hardaway’s return isn’t just the addition of another shooter alongside Luka Doncic. He’s been there and done that.

Now, he gets to play in lineups that will feature true big men. And he’ll have the opportunity to do what he does best – spot up and shoot. Wood and McGee, specifically, will also help mitigate some of Hardaway’s defensive miscues.

Already McGee through the first week of training camp has shown he is an astute rim protector. Guys are learning to trust his leadership on that side of the floor, with Hardaway being one of them.

“JaVale has finals [appearances] and rings that he’s bringing to the team, so he has veteran leadership,” Hardaway said. “He makes sure we do a great job of knowing how to get to those steps and competing for a championship.”

Having McGee helps. But having Hardaway back also helps. Throughout training camp, Kidd has discussed replacing Brunson’s production by committee. That means expecting more from Spencer Dinwiddie and Hardaway, who will inevitability both play volume-scoring roles as shot creators within Dallas’ system.

While everyone else in the West added star power, the Mavericks appear to be banking on what they have internally. Part of that equation is Hardaway. And, on the surface, it appears he’s ready for a somewhat new-look role on the somewhat new-look Mavericks.

“I can only bring so much to the table,” Hardaway said. “The guys just want me to be myself, be that energy giver, and be that passionate player out there on the floor. It’s just about going out there to hoop and have fun. This is an easy sport we play. I’m not making it too hard on myself.”

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“Mavericks: Jason Kidd finally clarifies Christian Wood’s role.” 

Feature image via Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports.