3 big men the Knicks could target to replace Isaiah Hartenstein

May 6, 2024; New York, New York, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Pascal Siakam (43) controls the ball against New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) during the second quarter of game one of the second round of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks’ former insurance big-turned-starting center, Isaiah Hartenstein, signed a three-year, 87-million-dollar deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. New York had hoped to retain him, but Hartenstein took a lucrative deal that will see him make $6 million more than Jalen Brunson next season. Now, the Knicks must pivot and see what transpires with few options to add to their depth chart at the center position. 

Under the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement), teams are penalized when crossing certain thresholds salary-wise. “These new rules are designed to put clamps on combining player acquisition with heavy spending,” the CBA states.

The hard cap on every team is $189.5 million, and the Knicks’ current payroll sits at $164 million paying ten active players. Cap holds and restrictions put the Knicks over the cap, and to finalize the trade for Mikal Bridges, more players may be on the move. 

The Knicks could target some affordable big men

Everything is a more tedious process under the new CBA. Making trades, signing free agents, and hiring staff have all been conflicted. The Knick’s current predicament of filling out their center position while staying under the second apron all but guarantees a move is to be soon. 

Dario Saric could be an intriguing option

Dario Saric, Knicks
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Dario Saric is currently playing for his home country of Croatia in the FIBA tournament, most recently dropping a triple-double against Slovenia, scoring 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. Saric signed a one-year, $2,709,849 contract with the Golden State Warriors last season with averages of eight points, four rebounds, and two assists.

At only 30 years old, Saric is a formidable option to stretch the floor from the center position. In an early season contest against Oklahoma City last season, Dario Saric logged 11 points and 12 rebounds against a much younger, inexperienced, but highly talented Thunder team. His defense can be inconsistent, but his basketball IQ and feel for the game have made him a career in the NBA.

Saric is a player who would exploit the younger team any way he can and would add versatility to the Knicks rotation. He had a true shooting of .600 last season, not far off from Hartenstein’s .670, and not the same price tag. He played well enough to get paid better this offseason, but New York is a contender in the East, and that always speaks volumes to vets wanting to win.

The Knicks should retain Precious Achiuwa 

nba: boston celtics at new york knicks, precious achiuwa
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The stretch of brilliance from Achiuwa last season for the Knicks makes him a hard reach for the Knicks to retain cap flexibility. Achiuwa averaged 37 minutes per game as injuries kept Hartenstein and Robinson on the sideline. The Knicks declined Achiuwa’s six million-dollar qualifying offer on June 29th, but the expectation that he would take less, given his production last season, would be far-fetched. As teams grab the big fish like Paul George and Klay Thompson, the role men will be the missing puzzle pieces, and Achiuwa is certain to be taken off the board. 

Walker Kessler could be an option on the trade market

Walker Kessler, Knicks
Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Per Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, “The Knicks have also made inquiries on the trade market, showing interest in Jazz center Walker Kessler.”

The 23-year-old big man is still on his rookie deal but has been a gem for the Utah Jazz. His contract has a player option for 2027, but waiting won’t be in the Knicks game plan.

Kessler is making $2.9 million next season, well under what the Knicks would have to pay Achiuwa, and with the Jazz building around Lauri Markannen, there may be a market available for Kessler to be on the move. 

Could a trade be on the horizon?

The New York Knicks want to contend and stay flexible salary-wise. Doing both in the current NBA climate is unheard of, but when your leading scorer is the third highest-paid (Jalen Brunson), and the star player you traded for is the fourth highest-paid, the ceiling of the Knicks hasn’t reached its apex.

A formidable big man to match up with the former MVP Joel Embiid is a sense of urgency. Trading franchise cornerstone Julius Randle might be the ticket for the Knicks to reach that apex.

Possibly trading McBride and DiVincenzo for a serviceable, above-average big man. A few names to look out for on the trade market would be Jakob Poetl, Brooke Lopez, and Jarrett Allen. 

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