Exclusive Tim Hardaway Interview: Luka is better than LeBron at age 23, Raptors are NBA Championship contenders, Top-5 Crossovers, NBA MVP and Finals Predictions

In an exclusive interview, NBA Hall of Famer Tim Hardaway Sr. told Sports Lens that Dallas Mavericks’ star Luka Doncic is better at age 23 than LeBron James.

The former NBA star also had some interesting predictions for the NBA season.

When asked to name the NBA’s best player, Hardaway said, “it’s a toss up” between Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum. He also declared Doncic as the early favorite to win the NBA MVP Award and the Toronto Raptors as a dark horse NBA Championship contender.

If you would like to use any quotes, you must credit and link to https://www.sportslens.com as the original source.

Interview Highlights

Other stories from the interview:

Full Transcript:

Nick: The Warriors are off to a slow start this year, what’s wrong with the defending champs?

Tim Hardaway Sr: They started off well because they were playing at home. They went to Phoenix and lost a close one at Phoenix. They just can’t win away games right now and it’s the defense. They are not playing really, really good defense. The young players are not playing good defense out there. They are trying to understand their concepts but it’s hard right now.

I think in the long run they will get it together. It’s a long season everybody goes through these droughts. Theirs’ is just happening now, so you could fix it now. You don’t want it to happen in the middle of the season or late in the season and then it’s hard to fix.

You want it to happen now, so they can be able to fix it and understand how to fix it. Then practise and walk through a lot of things and understand what they need to do to get better.

But you know teams are gunning for them, the Warriors are the champions. They are gunning for them, and the younger fellas don’t know that. The older fellas know that but the younger fellas don’t know that, and that’s the problem.

Nick: How hard is it for a team to move on from an incident like the Draymond Green fight with Jordan Pool?

Tim Hardaway Sr: That’s tough. That’s a tough one, to me if you get hit, even if afterwards you see the video, they say, it was even worse than I thought. Well, getting hit is getting hit, no matter what it is. So no matter how you get hit, you got stole-on. I think that they will get through it. Steve Kerr said that this is the most that they have been through in his career there and they have to get beside it. I think they are getting beside it.

But as a basketball player, it’d be hard if that happened to me. I will say though he should be looking over his shoulder every day I come into the locker room, that’s what I would say. He should be watching over his shoulder every time I see him. No matter where it’s at, whether it’s at a function, you’re walking to your car, in the locker room, wherever. Just watch your back. That’s the way I grew up, I think it’s hard to get over it.
I don’t think they really truly have gotten over it, they are trying to. But I don’t think they really truly have.

Nick: How long should the Warriors stick with Klay Thompson while he’s struggling, and his return from injury?

Tim Hardaway Sr: I’ve been listening to commentators and they are saying that he’s not healthy. I disagree with them, a lot of commentators that didn’t play professional basketball have never been through an injury like he had, an ACL or Achilles.I think it’s in his mind more so, he’s 100% healthy. The quicker he gets it in his mind, saying, ‘hey, I can play, it doesn’t hurt. It’s not going to bother me.

It’s not going to affect me. I’m 1000% healthy. Let me just go out there and do what I normally do. Let me get back to what I used to do’ that’s what he needs to do.

I think he’s thinking that if I do a certain move, if I do this then I’m gonna tweak it again, you can’t think like that. You gotta go out there and play. I disagree with what they are saying because I’ve been here and I have done that. The quicker you get your mind off your leg and say I go out there and everything is fine, the quicker he’s going to be better. I think that’s what’s bothering him now. I just don’t think that he’s trusting himself that it’s a 100% but he is 100%. His struggle is that he’s worried about his leg which he shouldn’t. He should just go out there and just play basketball. So once he gets that together, he’d be back, he’d be the old Klay.

if Klay wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have won the championship last year. They needed all those intricate pieces, Klay needed to be there, Draymond needed to be there, Steph needed to be there. Those 3, go together.

So no, I would never trade Klay.

Nick: Would James Wiseman benefit from a change of scenery? Is that a piece that they should use to maybe get another player?

Tim Hardaway Sr: James has been out 2 years with injuries. He’s still trying to find himself. Injuries play a part in your development. As a young player in the NBA, when you miss 2 years of not playing, not practising, going through game situations, going through stuff, it hurts your development.

They have to be patient. Everybody has to be patient, we see signs then you don’t see signs then you see signs. He just got to do that and be consistent with it. Once he gets consistent with everything. If I was him I would stop wondering about or trying to fit in and score. I don’t want to fit in and score. Your scoring is gonna happen because you got Klay, Draymond, and Steph on the court, your scoring is going to come. You’re gonna have open shots, you’re going to have open layups, you’ll have open dunks, and have lobs. He just needs to worry about the defensive end.

The only thing you need to do is worry about the defensive end and understand what we’re doing on defense, and how to play defense. Everything will go hand in hand. That’s what they are trying to get him to do. I think he’s a darn good athlete, darn good player and I think that just not playing and not getting enough reps hurt him.

He wasn’t able to practise. He was just able to go through drills but he wasn’t able to
go 5 on 5 or 4 on 4 or go through actual drill work for 2 years. That’s hard. They come back for a training camp, and then you’re going to throw him out there and be ready. Come on. It takes long.

Nick: Where do you rank Steph among the greatest players of all time?

Tim Hardaway Sr: Top 10.

Nick: Would he be as great as if he played in your era in the 90s?

Tim Hardaway Sr: I wish people would stop comparing the two because the way we grew up is different from the way they grew up. The way Dell, myself, Magic, Isaiah, Michael, all of us, the way we grew up is totally different. We were brought up in a whole new, different way. Some of these kids, my son included, Steph, Seth, and Klay, they were brought up with a silver spoon in their mouth because that’s the way we wanted it to be for them. We want them to come up in a way where they don’t have to worry about anything, so it was totally different.

So our era was brutal. We had to become men at 12,13, 14. We had to learn how to take care of each other, our families, our brothers and sisters. We had to grow up, understand how to conduct ourselves at 12 or 13, we couldn’t be kids. We had to be grown men. we had to watch out, we had to look around.

I grew up in a gang infested city. Gang infested drug infested in Chicago. It was tough. It was totally different. Basketball was totally different.

It was pushed up, beat you up, bang you, knock you down, slap you around, you better not cry. You had to fight sometimes. It was a whole bunch of stuff.

Detroit Pistons, LA Lakers, Boston Celtics, back in the eighties, come on man!

So I’m not saying no, I’m just saying our era and this area are totally different. So I wish people would stop comparing that to that, just let them have fun and do what they do, and take the game to the next level. I enjoy watching them play.

Just think, in his third year in the league, everybody was counting him out. Nike was counting him out, Nike didn’t give him a shoe.

Nobody believed in him. He had to get his ankles together, come in and play, and have confidence in himself. That’s another thing if you don’t have confidence in yourself, you’re not going to make it in this league. He had confidence in himself and I commend him because he went out there and showed everybody that they were wrong about him.

So I’m happy for him.

Nick: They’ve started off the season losing 7 of their first 11 games. Is Miami’s run as a NBA title contender over?

Tim Hardaway Sr: No, like I said it’s better to have these starts now or have this type of situation midway through the season. They are going to get it together, I have confidence in Erik Spoelstra. I have confidence in the Miami Heat organization and Jimmy Butler and those guys, that they are going to get it together and turn it around. You just gotta believe, and they believe. They haven’t been on a road trip, normally when they go on a road trip, that’s when they start turning stuff around because they’re around each other, they enjoy each other, and they start doing stuff.

So they’ve been at home and it was like that with us too, back in the 90’s, when we are at home we’re comfortable, at home we’re up and down. But when we went on that road trip, it seemed like it was a mentality that your head changed, it’s you against the world, everybody doesn’t like you and we have to go out there and do it by ourselves, and you go out there you win 6 in a row. Then you come back home, next thing you know, you’re at 11 in a row. You’re back up over 500 and you roll it and sustain it.

That’s all they have to do. They just need to sustain, they need to play defense a lot harder. They need to stop gambling, they need to trust in what they do, and have fun out there.

It seems like they’re not having fun, it seems like it’s all business. You have to go out there and have fun. Enjoy yourself and play.

Nick: Miami has had a lot of success with undrafted players. Why have the Heat been able to identify players that slip through the cracks?

Tim Hardaway Sr: I don’t think they slip through the cracks, I just think that they look at players and know what type of players they want, what type of players they want to make them thrive and know what type of players that will make their team better.

I say this all the time, they talk about the Heat culture. The Heat Culture started in 96, 97 with me, Zo, Keith Askins, P.J. Brown, Ike Austin, Voshon Lenard, Dan Majerle, those guys are when it started.

So that’s when the Heat culture with the Pat Riley regime started. When you came in you came in to work. It was all business. You have fun, but it was all business . Even during the summer time, you come in, you get your work in hour or 2 hours whatever you’re going to do then you leave.

But that’s what they get, they get these guys that want to be in the league, they’re working hard, they have that potential. They come in, they go to the G League and the G League team has to like the same coaches that are implementing what the coaches with the Heat are doing, and the same style. So when they come up it’s like boom bam boom, bam, they don’t miss a beat.

Yeah, I don’t think they slip through the cracks, I just think that they know who they want and it’d be good for their team. They bring them in and the guys are ready to go. They know that they have to work hard. They know that they have to be hungry. You gotta be hungry to play in the NBA.

If you didn’t get drafted and they bring you in, you should be privileged, like I shot let me go ahead and do what I need to do to make this team.

Nick: What’s your best Pat Riley story?

Tim Hardaway Sr: I got tons of them. But I tell you this: I love the man.

You know why I love him, he prepares you. He always prepares you for the game, no matter what, you’re prepared. When we’re there practising for 2 and a half hours, we drill it. We’re not practising, we drilling it, we drill and we go on over stuff. We’re making sure that we got it right and it’s all about repetition, and you got to be prepared. You have to be prepared to go out there for battle alright and we were all serious.

That’s what I like about Pat because he’s fair. A lot of people don’t think he’s fair, he’s a fair guy, he is going to do whatever he can do for his team to make his team better.

If you ask him, you know you need a massage, a masseuse on the team, he’ll get that. You ask him about meals, he’ll get that. He just wants you to go out there, do your job, do it well, and have fun doing it but win.

I had fun with him. I had a ball playing for Pat Riley. You disagree with each other, everybody disagrees. You go back and forth, and this and that, that’s basketball. But, man, if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way, and have fun doing the same way, and I enjoy playing for him. I enjoy playing with the guys that I play with, enjoyed playing in Miami, with the fans.

The fans there really weren’t into basketball. They weren’t into basketball and Pat said one thing, just go out there and win. If you want the fans to come, just go out there and win.
I guarantee you we’ll sell out each and every game but just go out there and win. We wanted to see the fans, so we went out there and won. So the fans came and we loved it.

That’s what Heat Culture is all about man, it’s about strapping your shoes up. keeping your ego at the door. Come in, let’s practise, let’s get after it, understand what we’re doing, and let’s learn from it and let’s get better.

Nick: Do you have any fun recruiting stories from your time as a father, or even maybe one from your playing days?

Tim Hardaway Sr: Yeah, his first year out of college, we’re playing one on one right before we are about to play pickup basketball. He crossed me over, I tried to steal it and I said, “Oh, you know what he was about to dunk.” I can’t let him dunk. So I turned around, I ran as fast as I could, and I snatched him out of the air. I was like, “No no no, you’re not going to dunk on me. I don’t care you’re not dunking on me,” and I said that’s when I said you know what you won, we’re not going to play no more 1 on 1. That’s it. That’s all.

Yeah, I knew when I reached and I missed it, and I said, “Oh, he’s gonna dunk on me.” I said it right then and there, that’s when I fouled him and I said, in my mind we’re not playing anymore. No more 1 on 1. I can’t let you beat me.

So now we play horse, we play shooting games and stuff like that, and have fun with that.

But I almost lost him. It was my fault, if I didn’t check myself as a father, and step back and be quiet. Just let him learn and watch him play, I almost lost them. So I’m happy I kept my mouth closed. I’m happy I let him learn. I’m happy I just stepped back and not pushed him, and pushed him in that direction.

Nick: What was it like coaching your son on his road to the NBA?

Tim Hardaway Sr: Well like I said, I had to step back, but I took them to John Bline.

John Beilein came and watched him work out, and John Beilein ne said, “You know, I don’t think there’s a father in the country that does what you do.” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “You bring your son to the gym, you pick him on your team, all the shots go to him. Everybody on the team knows the shots go to him, and you are comfortable with that.” I say, “Yeah, just every time we come to the gym, every time I open up the gym. This is for Tim Hardaway Jr. This isn’t for none of these guys. These are grown men. This is for Tim Hardaway Jr. to get better and to be better, and everything.”

It was all about Tim, getting him better against better competition each and every day. Getting stronger, shooting the ball with confidence.

I used to tell him, I said, “You know in a game you know when it’s 11 up game is 12.
You get the ball. You better be sure because when you miss and we lose, people will be talking about you. They’re going to be cursing you out. So you better know what you’re doing.” He’s like, “Yeah, I know. I know.” I said, “Okay, after we lost one and everybody was getting on him. I said see, I told you!” He said, “Yeah, that doesn’t feel good.” I said, “No, no, it doesn’t.”

Nick: How would you rate Tim Hardaway Jr.’s progress in his own return from injury?

Tim Hardaway Sr: He’s been off for like 6 months, you have to get your timing back. It takes time. The first thing you have to do, don’t worry about offence. I always say, when you come back, worry about defense, moving your feet, standing in front of somebody, putting your hands up, getting back, rebounding the ball, boxing out, helping out, stuff like that. That’s what I want, that’s what I tell him to do.

Yeah just play defense, it’s all about defense and moving your feet. I think that’s how you get your timing back by playing good defense, by standing in front of people, putting your hands up, helping out, boxing out.

Just when you run the offence, it’ll come, offence will come, offence always comes.

Lay ups, free throws, then you make a couple of jump shots. Then if you do that each and every game, each and every practise you practise, you know.

Just keep focusing and it’s all about focusing. I told him just focus, you got to focus on what you’re trying to do and what you’re trying to accomplish to come back. He’s been
doing that but it’s hard. It’s still hard because he’s playing against different people every night.

The ball is not going to go in and some nights you might get 10 minutes in the first half. You might get 5 minutes, you might get foul trouble. So you just gotta keep your mind together, and just go out there and keep playing and keep pushing. Then next 6 games you are back in rhythm, and you’re back where you were last season.

He got hurt last night. The floor was slippery. He hyperextended his groin, he kind of did a split in the middle of the lane, early the third quarter.

Then the very next play, Luka almost did the same thing. Everybody was upset with the ball boys, but it wasn’t their fault.

Nick: Let’s settle the GOAT debate MJ or LeBron?

Tim Hardaway Sr: Michael Jordan.

Nick: Who’s better at age 23 Lebron, or Luka?

Tim Hardaway Sr: Oh, who’s better at age 23. I will take Luka at 23. What he’s doing now, his jump shot. But we have to remember, Luka has been playing professional basketball since he was the age of 16. He’s been playing professional basketball. He’s been playing against grown men. LeBron just started playing against grown men at 18. Then he had to figure it out. That took him about 3 years.

I will stay right now, looking back, 23 and 23. What Luka is doing? Yeah, I think that he’s doing it better than what LeBron was doing.

Nick: What do you think of the job that Troy Weaver’s done rebuilding in Detroit?

Tim Hardaway Sr: Troy Weaver has done an amazing job. They have an exciting team. These young players are going to be alright. Jaden Ivy, Cade, all the other guys that’re there. I like their nucleus, I like what they’re doing. They just got to stay healthy. They have to focus on staying healthy, whatever they need to do to stay healthy and once they stay healthy, this team is gonna be a monster. Duren at center.

You know Duren is only 18 years old. He’s like 6 ’11, he’s a grown man right now. He’s massive, strong, he can run, jump, block shots, rebound, dunk on you, great hands. So he’s learned it. They’re gonna be alright. They’re gonna be okay.

People in Detroit, I understand, you know the bad boys. Then you got Chancey Billups, Ben Wallace, Prince, Rip Hamilton and those guys, they went through it with them. You gotta give this team a chance. They’re gonna be alright.

Nick: Which teams are the best bet to make the NBA Finals?

Tim Hardaway Sr: Oh, that’s kind of hard right now. I’m still going to go with the Golden State Warriors, even though they’re going through.

If they get Khris Middleton back and they stay healthy, Milwaukee Bucks.

Boston Celtics and I know the Miami Heat is going to get it together.

The two front runners, I’m still sticking with the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks.

Nick: Who’s the best player in the NBA right now?

Tim Hardaway Sr: Oh, right now. I hate to say this but it’s a toss up between Luka and Tatum from the Boston Celtics. Tatum is playing really really well. I’d toss it up between them two.

You can see the confidence in his game on both hands of the court.

Nick: Who’s the NBA MVP this year, when it’s all said and done?

Tim Hardaway Sr: When it’s all said and done, right now you have to say Luka. Luka Doncic is the frontrunner right now.

But I’m going to tell you this man, look at Giannis. Look at what he’s doing. His team just lost last night but I would say Luka, Giannis, and Tatum. I think those 3 are front runners for MVP.

I don’t see anybody else that’s really up there, making some noise.

Nick: Is there a team, maybe a dark horse that no one’s talking about, that has a legitimate shock to win the title?

Tim Hardaway Sr: If they stay healthy, they have to stay healthy, though. If they stay healthy I will say, Toronto. If they stay healthy, what I’ve been seeing with them, and how hard they play.

If they stay healthy. you know they got some guys out now and VanVleet I don’t know if he came back but now my man got hurt in Dallas. He slipped on the floor in Dallas. So you know, I will say them.

Nick: Top 5 crossovers of all time?

Tim Hardaway Sr: Tim Hardaway. Tim Hardaway, number 1. Kyrie Irving. I would say Chris Paul, Allen Iverson and Steph Curry.

Nick: Top 5 Chicago basketball players of all time?

Tim Hardaway Sr: That’s easy. Isaiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre, Terry Cummings, myself, and Dwayne Wade.

Nick: You went to UTEP obviously a very historic basketball school, what do you think of the job that Joe Golding has done over there at the program?

Tim Hardaway Sr: I think this is my personal feeling that I think he should have got an ex-player that played there and knows the city to coach there, like myself or Greg Foster.

We know the city. We know the kids that we wanted to come to the school, how to coach, know how to get to the kid. We just know the city, we just know how to get the city behind you to get to the games.

Greg Foster and I, we weren’t going to use UTEP as a stepping-stone to get to the next place.

We were gonna stay there, make it work and make it happen. Like I said, we know how to recruit, we know what type of guys and kids we want to come there to UTEP, and to play for UTEP.

So I wish he would have gotten one of us but I’m still going to support the school because that’s my alma mater, and I still wish them well. I think they are going to, even though they lost last night, I think they’re going to be alright.

You have to go through your bumps and bruises but you gotta show people that, or show the kids that you have a system there that works. That’s what it’s about.

Nick: Do you think high school athletes are gonna flood the draft and jump straight to the League? Or do you see more of a balance this time around?

Tim Hardaway Sr: That’s what I think, more guys are going to try to come into the NBA from high school and flood the system and that’s gonna hurt. That’s going to hurt them, that’s the dream, I understand that it’s their dream but some of these kids are not ready. Even though they think they’re ready.

They’re not ready.

Prime example, my son said after his second year, yeah, I’m going to put my name in the Draft.

I said, “No, you’re not.” He said, “Yes, I am.” I said, “No, you’re not.” He said, “Why? You always, you know, hating or you don’t want me to do this.” I said, “Son, you’re not ready, you’re not ready.”

They went on that Final Four run but he wasn’t ready. I said, “I’d be doing you a great misjustice as a dad to tell you, yeah, you ready, you ready and I know you’re not ready. Then you go there and you go to the G League, and you don’t want to start in the G League, you don’t want to play in the G-League. You won’t make it out.”

I said, “Trust me go back to school, play another year, get your game together and let’s see from there.” Well, they went on a great run, they lost in a championship game.

He came to me and said, “I’m going to put my name in the Draft.” I said, “Yes, you should, you are ready now.”

But see you gotta be honest with these kids. You gotta hold these kids accountable. Their accountability is nothing anymore and that’s what’s wrong with them.

Everybody is still telling them “Yes, yes, yes, yes” instead of telling them “no, that’s not right. No you can’t do that, no no, no, no,” but that’s all they are hearing is yes. Like, “Why you want to change teams. No, we’re not changing teams, we’re gonna keep you on that team, make it work.”

AAU, they always want to change teams. Every year somebody’s transferring, some kids are going to 4 schools in 4 years. You don’t get any better. Why should I want you if you’re not better over there, why should I want you over here? I mean, I don’t understand that but that’s what it is.

Yeah, I think it’s gonna hurt. It’s going to hurt, the flood gates, and a lot of these guys coming out that are ready to come out in college.

The NIL thing, I think it’s good but I think that it needs to be more controlled. You get these guys getting $200,000- $300,000, I understand they can play but that’s a lot of money for a college kid, right now.

Some of the guys in the G League aren’t getting paid $300,000.

It’s up and down to me. But hey, if you get it, get it. Free money is free money, if they want to give it to you, take it.

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