Knicks could lose breakout center in the offseason due to part of his contract

May 14, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) rebounds against Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin (1) during the second half during game five of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks breakout center Isaiah Hartenstein could leave the team in free agency this summer and a component of his contract will limit how much money the Knicks can offer him to stay.

Recent word surrounding the Knicks is that they want to retain the culture they’ve built for next season. Keeping Hartenstein on their roster will be paramount to that. However, working against them are the bird rights tied to his deal.

Knicks’ Early Bird Rights for Isaiah Hartenstein will cap their offer potential this offseason

New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) dunks in the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

CBS Sports’ Sam Quinn detailed how the Knicks’ potential offer will be capped at $16.2 million for 2024-25 because Hartenstein’s expiring two-year deal only gives them Early Bird Rights as opposed to full Bird Rights:

“Essentially, that means that the Knicks can’t pay Hartenstein more than roughly $16.2 million next season,” Quinn unearthed before comparing Hartenstein to like centers in the league and their earnings.

“He’s also never been a wire-to-wire NBA starter, and non-shooting centers often struggle to earn fair contracts on the open market. There are only 15 centers in the NBA making more this season than that maximum figure the Knicks can give Hartenstein. The bad news, frankly, is that Hartenstein is better than several of them. Zach CollinsJusuf Nurkic, and Nikola Vucevic were all overpaid this season, but they are a barometer Hartenstein will no doubt use in negotiating his next contract. If they’re worth that much, why isn’t he?”

Had the German-American center signed with the Knicks for three seasons instead of two in 2022, New York would have had no restrictions on how much they could pay him.

Hartenstein’s versatile play on both ends could earn him a major deal in free agency

May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) shoots the ball while New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) defends during game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hartenstein averaged the fifth-most rebounds among all players who saw less than 26 minutes of court time in 2023-24. He also had 21 games with at least five offensive rebounds. The Knicks went 7-3 in the ten times he posted a double-double on the campaign and his infectious energy in the interior jolted the Knicks in the playoffs.

Many teams will be gunning for a rim-running center with a high motor and knack for protecting the cup on the inside. Hartenstein will use his gaudy performances as a starter, including 14 games with 13 or more rebounds and 11 games with five or more assists, as his strongest negotiating chip when looking for the most advantageous contract in the open market. If he chooses to stay in New York for up to $16.2 million, then he’ll also have to deal with sharing time with Mitchell Robinson at the five spot.

There were no issues there in the playoffs once Robinson returned from injury. However, should Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau elect to reinstate him into the starting lineup, Hartenstein’s decision career year leading into a potential career-altering free agency could be greatly impacted.

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