Knicks’ breakout guard confident in team’s direction despite Isaiah Hartenstein’s departure

Mar 8, 2024; New York, New York, USA;  Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner (22) drives in between New York Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) and center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) in the first quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks had to say goodbye to their beloved center that got them through all the adversity last season, as Isaiah Hartenstein signed a three-year, $87 million contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. Despite losing a valuable piece, Knicks’ shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo is not worried about the state of the team heading into next season.

“Whatever team we have, I think we’re going to be very good,” DiVincenzo said (h/t The New York Post’s Stefan Bondy). “No matter what happens the rest of the offseason, I think overall everybody is going to come back and get better. I think with [Tom Thibodeau] there’s always a foundation, it doesn’t matter who is on the court. No matter who is on the team, I think we got a sense and we got a taste of what we can do and how we can take that next step.”

The Knicks have a star-studded team heading into next season despite losing Hartenstein

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau high fives New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) with guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) and forward OG Anunoby (8) and guard Jalen Brunson (11) during the first quarter against the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks made a summer splash a few days before the start of free agency, as they agreed on a trade with the Brooklyn Nets that would send two-way guard Mikal Bridges to New York. The trade can’t be made official until July 6, but once it does, the Knicks will have themselves an elite team that can compete with the reigning champion Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference crown.

The unfortunate sacrifice was that the trade almost guaranteed Hartenstein’s inevitable departure, and the Knicks were hard-capped on what they could offer him thanks to his early Bird rights in his original contract. Ultimately, Hartenstein chose not to take such a massive pay cut while still having the chance to compete for a title elsewhere, something that SNY’s Ian Begley highlighted as a primary factor in his decision.

“As you’d imagine, this was a tough call for Isaiah Hartenstein. He loved his teammates, energy of the fan base, the city. The opportunity for big raise (OKC: 3/$87; NYK: 4/$72) while maintaining chance to compete for title was a factor, per people familiar with decision. If another cap space team that was rebuilding made this offer to Hartenstein, it might have been a different outcome. Knicks did everything they could to keep Hartenstein and made the decision ‘so hard’ for him, per people familiar with the matter,” Begley posted on X.

The Knicks now need to pivot toward finding Hartenstein’s replacement. As of now, Mitchell Robinson would take back his starting job and Jericho Sims would serve as the backup, though New York is in the mix to add another center to the roster. With many available free agents at the position off the board, the possibility of bringing back Precious Achiuwa looms large.

DiVincenzo blossomed in his first season with the Knicks

May 17, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo (0) reacts after a made basket during game six of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hartenstein and DiVincenzo both started last season as reserves and eventually became starters after injuries sidelined key members of the roster. Both would thrive as starters, which is largely what led to Hartenstein receiving a massive contract in free agency. It is unclear if the Thunder plan on starting Hartenstein alongside fellow seven-footer Chet Holmgren, but DiVincenzo likely returns to the bench role he was signed with the intention of playing in once the Bridges deal is complete.

DiVincenzo averaged a career-high 15.5 points per game and shot 40% from three. In the last 35 games of the regular season, he averaged 21 points and made a total of 161 three-pointers as a starter. Having the luxury of an elite shooter with the ability to score crooked numbers coming off the bench is a testament to their depth heading into next season.

While losing Hartenstein is a massive blow to a Knicks team that was hoping it could run it back with most of the team from last season, they are still more than capable of becoming a serious contender next season with the pieces they currently have and will continue to add as the offseason continues.

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